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Kyrgyzstan: Police Battle With Protesters In Southern Cities

Prague, 20 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Antigovernment protesters in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Jalal-Abad have retaken the provincial administration building and set fire to a police station after overnight raids by security forces. At least 10,000 demonstrators gathered in the streets of Jalal-Abad today after police evicted protesters from the administration building earlier in the day.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of President Askar Akayev and a rerun of recent parliamentary elections that they say were seriously flawed.

Police in southern Kyrgyzstan forcibly evicted demonstrators from two provincial government buildings early today. The demonstrators had occupied the buildings on 18 March to protest alleged parliamentary election fraud.

Deputy Interior Minister Abdylda Suranchiyev says several protesters and least one police officer were injured during the raids in the southern Kyrgyzstan towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports hundreds of demonstrators were temporarily detained in those towns. It remains unclear how many people were still being held late today.

RFE/RL correspondent Yrysbay Abdyraimov was monitoring the situation from outside Jalal-Abad's provincial administration building and filed a live report as the security forces stormed that building at about 4 a.m. (local time): "People are running away in panic. There are fires burning in the street on the front side of the provincial administration building. Soldiers have set up blockades all around the building. You are hearing [the gunfire from the soldiers who are firing into the air]. Some people are throwing stones back at them and trying to hit the soldiers with sticks. I can see soldiers arresting some of the demonstrators and leading them away from the building. And I can see some demonstrators who are chasing after soldiers [who had charged at the crowd but are now moving away.]"

Later today, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Jalal-Abad to call for the resignation of President Akaev and a rerun of parliamentary elections.

Government spokesman Orazaly Karasartov estimated the crowd today to be about 10,000 people -- making it the largest demonstration to date. Opposition leaders say 20,000 to 30,000 people were on the streets taking part in protests in Jalal-Abad today.

RFE/RL correspondents report that a police station in the city was set on fire by angry demonstrators as police fled to the roof of that building and fired their guns in the air.

Karasartov says large crowds of protesters also forced government workers to flee other offices in Jalal-Abad today -- including the provincial administration building that had just been retaken by security forces.

Demonstrators on 18 March seized at least seven government buildings in southern and western Kyrgyzstan to protest the official results of recent parliamentary elections.

Electoral officials say relatives and political allies of President Akayev won overwhelming victories. But the demonstrators say the elections were marred by widespread irregularities.

Early today, at the same time police stormed the Jalal-Abad building, another group of security forces from Bishkek launched a raid on the provincial administration building in the nearby town of Osh.

Sagynbaev is one of the antigovernment demonstrators who had been inside the Osh administration building since 18 March. He spoke to RFE/RL by telephone about what he saw happen during that raid: "Inside of the provincial administration building, everything was peaceful. There were about 300 to 400 people inside, including older men and women. They were lying on the ground and some people were preparing to pray because it was the hour of prayer. At this time, some of the special security forces that had arrived from Bishkek [yesterday] stormed the building. They acted without mercy. Some people who were very frightened jumped from the second story windows. And some people were injured by the security forces. The security forces from Bishkek acted very brutally while police from Osh stood on the street outside and did not arrest anyone."

One opposition parliamentarian, Duishon Chotonov, was among those arrested in Osh. Anyar Artykov, chairman of a newly established opposition body in Osh called the People's Council, also was detained. Both Chotonov and Artykov were later released, however.

Meanwhile, five other state buildings were still being occupied in southern and western districts of Kyrgyzstan today.

The independent "Res Publica" newspaper has distributed a press release claiming that at least four people were killed and about 28 demonstrators were taken to Osh hospital as a result of violence during the police raids.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangaraev has denied the "Res Publica" claim. He told RFE/RL today that nobody died as a result of the raids.

Opposition street rallies have been gaining momentum in Kyrgyzstan in recent days. Yesterday about 8,000 people demonstrated in three cities.

The European Union and the United States have both described the parliamentary vote as seriously flawed. The government in Bishkek maintains that the election was free and fair.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyzstan Service Director Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev and Amibek Usmanov in Prague contributed to this report)

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