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Kyrgyzstan: Police Kill Four Demonstrators

Bishkek, 18 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyzstan's government says four demonstrators were killed and dozens of others wounded during a protest against the trial of an opposition leader who is a member of parliament. Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, who was appointed to his post in mid-January, said on national television today that 2,000 demonstrators gathered in several villages in southern Kyrgyzstan yesterday.

AkmatAliyev said an angry standoff with police degenerated into violent clashes. He said demonstrators threw stones at police, tried to seize a local police station, and set fire to a government office.

But the head of a post office in one of the villages told RFE/RL that police opened fire on the crowd as demonstrators were marching to either attend the trial of Azimbek Beknazarov or protest against it. Other participants in the demonstration told RFE/RL that no stones were thrown at the police.

Beknazarov is charged with abuse of power while serving as a district prosecutor in the Toktogul district some seven years ago. Beknazarov and his supporters say he was arrested because he has criticized the government. He had a trial last week and a verdict is to be delivered today

AkmatAliyev said there may be more protest actions and ordered about 1,000 police troops to the area.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev meanwhile accused people of "provoking mass disorder" in the village of Kerben in the province of Jalal-Abad. He said law-enforcement officials were forced to fire in self-defense when the protest turned violent.

That contradicts the words of his interior minister, whom Reuters quoted as telling the parliament that police had only fired shots into the air, not into the crowd.

Prime Minister Bakiev said one person died as a result of a knife wound and another after being hit by a brick.