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Defiant Kyrgyz Leader Addresses Supporters In South


President Kurmanbek Bakiev speaks to journalists in Jalal-Abad
TEYIT/PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- A defiant Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev has been drumming up support in the south, calling rivals who have declared an interim government "bandits" and warning of "a great deal of bloodshed" if they try to seize or injure him.

Bakiev also called for the United Nations to send a contingent of peacekeepers to the north of the country, where the capital lies, to help restore order.

Bakiev fled Bishkek for southern Kyrgyzstan on April 7, when riot police and troops opened fire on antigovernment protesters. At least 81 people were reported killed in the violence.

An interim government headed by opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva claimed power, saying Bakiev must resign and threatening to arrest him.

Addressing a cheering crowd of up to 1,500 people in Teyit in the southern region of Jalal-Abad on April 12, Bakiev again refused to step down, saying he is the country's legitimate president.

Bakiev accused his opponents of seizing power by force and blamed most of the trouble on “bandits” in Talas and Bishkek in the north.

Bakiev denied responsibility for the killings in the capital and called for an international investigation. He said any attempt to seize or kill him would result in "bloodshed."

"Let them try to seize me. Let them try to destroy me. I think this will lead to a great deal of bloodshed, which no one will be able to justify," Bakiev said. "Those who are causing unrest in Bishkek now are trying to divide the country into the north and the south. That should not be allowed to happen."

RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, who attended the gathering, says Bakiev's speech was followed by an open microphone for his supporters to come and speak.

"People came up and gave speeches, and he was clearly very pleased at the speeches they were giving. He smiled, he laughed, he seemed very well-composed," Pannier said.

"The numbers [in the crowd] might have been down a little bit because it was raining pretty much while the whole thing was going on, but he did seem to have at least some support," Pannier added, "and he did also have [armed] guards around him, a security detachment around him."

In an interview later at his home with journalists, including from RFE/RL, Bakiev reiterated that he was still the legitimate leader and that if his opponents wanted talks, they must come to him.

Bakiev again rejected any connection with last week's killings, saying the only thing he was guilty of was that he did not expect there would be what he called a "seizure of power."

Bakiev also said he was seeking to solidify his support in the south. He said some 10 lawmakers were down in the south with him and would attend a rally planned for April 13 in the regional capital, Jalal-Abad.

'Special Operation'

Earlier in the day, a deputy leader of the new administration, Almaz Atambaev, said a "special operation" was being planned against Bakiev.

Speaking to reporters in Bishkek, Atambaev accused the president of "hiding behind a human shield" in his home region. He refused to give any further details about the operation.

Certainly, Bakiev appears to have relative freedom of movement and speech in his home region.

RFE/RL's Pannier said there was no attempt to stop Bakiev and his supporters from getting to and leaving the meeting.

Jalal-Abad's acting mayor told RFE/RL that he had no plans to block the meeting, saying Kyrgyzstan was a democratic country and that if people wanted to gather and voice their opinion that was their right.

In the capital, Bishkek, RFE/RL asked Otunbaeva, the head of the self-proclaimed interim government, if Bakiev was in charge of any part of the security forces.

Otunbaeva admitted some "sympathies" between some members of these forces and Bakiev. "We have full control of military forces throughout the country...the internal security and police. But some of them, yes, they have probably sympathies [with Bakiev] -- I should tell the truth -- those forces that have been formed up over the last years by Bakiev's family, his brother, and other allies," Otunbaeva said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek said it had no plans "to shelter Mr. Bakiev or help him leave Kyrgyzstan." It said any reports to the contrary were "completely inaccurate."

The mission also said Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller reaffirmed a U.S. commitment "to continue to provide humanitarian assistance and to support the democratic development of Kyrgyzstan" at a meeting with Otunbaeva.

The talks came ahead of a visit to Kyrgyzstan by U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake.

The embassy also said the U.S. air base outside Bishkek had resumed "normal operations" after unrest caused the suspension of flights. It said "refueling operations continue as usual and the transit of troops has resumed" at Manas, a crucial supply base for the U.S.-led coalition's military operations in Afghanistan.

written in Prague by Central Newsroom staff based on reports from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Bruce Pannier in Teyit