The interim government in Kyrgyzstan has sent the country’s acting defense minister to the southern city of Osh, where loyalists of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev are occupying provincial government buildings.
Government buildings in the country’s two other southern provinces – Batken and Jalal-Abad -- were also stormed by Bakiev supporters on May 13 in a day of uprisings that broke the calm that had settled over the country after Bakiev was driven power last month following deadly antigovernment protests.
Roza Otunbaeva, the head of the country’s interim government, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, "If there would be such forces that would like to make obstacles for us, in order to try to push Kyrgyzstan backwards and try to divide all of us, then we have both full power and readiness to resist and prevail over them."
In the largest of the protests, RFE/RL correspondent Rysbai Abdraimov in Jalal-Abad said several thousand people had gathered in front of the provincial government headquarters and were chanting pro-Bakiev slogans, including, "[The] Kyrgyz people are with Bakiev," "We consider only Bakiev the legitimate president," and "The end of an era for the interim government."
Our correspondent said the crowd "surrounded [provincial] Governor Bektur Asanov for a while but then let him go, and he left in his car." About 50 of the protesters, mostly women, then forced their way into the local government building.
Acts of Treason
The police refrained from getting involved and none of the protesters appeared to be carrying any type of weapon.
A crowd of Bakiev supporters also surrounded the local government building in Batken, demanding the dismissal of the new governor, Karamat Orozov.
Dozens of the protesters then entered the building and called for the former governor, a Bakiev loyalist, to be returned to his post. Orozov's whereabouts remain unclear.
Unconfirmed reports also say opponents of the interim government have taken over the airport in another southern city, Osh.
Adakhan Madumarov, former Kyrgyz state secretary and a close ally of Bakiev, criticized the organizers of the protest and the building occupation.
"If [Bakiev's] people are behind the [latest actions against the interim government], then I would assess their actions as treason against the Kyrgyz state," Madumarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. "However, there is also the danger that the interim government would just blame someone for all the shortcomings without acknowledging their own fault.
"These gentlemen and ladies [in the interim government] who stated that they took responsibility for the [country's] future should go to the people for direct talks in order to settle the current situation."
Earlier on May 13, some 300 protesters gathered in front of the local government headquarters in Osh, demanding Bakiev's return. After a scuffle with guards, protesters entered the building, forcing the provincial governor to flee.
RFE/RL correspondents at the scene say Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was appointed Osh provincial governor by Kyrgyzstan's interim government last month, left the building surrounded by his guards.
Our correspondents say former Osh Governor Mamasadyk Bakirov and his deputy then entered their "offices."
Later, both Bakirov and Jeenbekov addressed the crowd outside the government building, where supporters of the interim government also gathered.
Bakirov called for the restoration of legality and the return of Bakiev. Jeenbekov called for calm and promised that the interim government would meet people's social demands and carry out reforms.
Kursant Asanov, the head of the Osh city police, told RFE/RL that police were maintaining order in the city.
Asanov said the police would safeguard public order and prevent any outbreak of ethnic tensions. He also said that the police force was "out of politics," and urged city residents to avoid "provocations."
The south, Bakiev's native region, is where support for the ousted president has been strongest.
As yet there is no official reaction by the interim government to developments in Jalal-Abad and Batken.
However, earlier on May 13, in the wake of the Osh demonstration, interim leaders said they would take measures to restore authority in the southern city. They also sent interim Defense Minister Ismail Isakov to Osh.
Roza Otunbaeva, the head of the interim government, said it would not allow the ousted government to try to "take revenge."
Interim government deputy leader Azimbek Beknazarov, too, described the latest developments in Osh as an intensified attempt by "counterrevolutionary forces" to take revenge.
Beknazarov said there were indications that opponents of the interim government had been joining forces. He told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that any such attempt was doomed because the interim cabinet enjoyed support among the people.
Separately, Omurbek Tekebaev, another Otunbaeva deputy, told Reuters that opponents of the interim government had been plotting a coup.
On May 12, "they planned to storm the parliament" where the interim government resides and "declare a new government," Tekebaev told the news agency.
Bakiev is now based in Belarus on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's invitation. AFP quoted a spokeswoman for Bakiev as saying the former president and his relatives were not involved in the events in Osh.
The interim authorities have asked Belarus to extradite Bakiev to stand trial in Bishkek in connection with the deaths of protesters and for abuse of office. Some 85 people were killed during the April uprising.
Kyrgyz local media reported today that relatives of the victims staged demonstrations in front of the Belarus Embassy in Bishkek demanding Minsk hand over Bakiev to Kyrgyz authorities.
In reaction, Belarus has recalled its ambassador from Kyrgyzstan due to safety concerns.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinnykh said the safety of the embassy personnel and their families could not be guaranteed under present circumstances in Bishkek. He added that threats had been made against specific embassy personnel.
He said that diplomatic relations between Belarus and Kyrgyzstan have not be severed.
written by Farangis Najibullah based on RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service material and agency reports