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Kyrgyz Interim Government Piles Pressure On Ousted President


Ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev speaking to Reuters on April 11 in Jalal-Abad
(RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyzstan's interim leader says the provisional government is considering arresting the country's president to put him on trial for the deaths of dozens of people in bloody clashes between antigovernment protesters and security forces earlier this week.

Roza Otunbaeva told Reuters that the arrest warrant for President Kurmanbek Bakiev's "relatives and accomplices" has already been issued."

Otunbaeva said her government would not use force against Bakiev, but that she could not guarantee his safety from those seeking revenge.

Bakiev is in hiding in his stronghold in the south of the country, from where he repeated his vow not to step down.

Earlier, provisional government deputy head Omurbek Tekebayev said on Kyrgyz radio: "Bakiev must resign and announce his decision to the people." Local media reported special forces had been dispatched to Bakiev's stronghold in the south of the country, where he's in hiding.

Calm has largely returned to the capital Bishkek after security forces assumed full control of the city overnight for the first time since the uprising on April 7, when thousands took to the streets to protest corruption and authoritarianism.

A third of people in Kyrgyzstan live below the poverty line.

Bakiev Defiant

Interim government chief of staff Edil Baisalov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service the government would not negotiate with the deposed president.

"I would like to emphasize very clearly that we haven't held any negotiations with Kurmanbek Bakiev," he said, "and we will never make such decision [to talk to him]."

Baisalov said the government was acting to protect Bakiev's life, although he didn’t specify what measures are being taken.

"Every day some groups of self-organized people are coming to us," he said, "asking for arms, saying 'We'll find him ourselves, we have to take revenge, we'll kill him,' and so on. That's why we're taking action to protect Bakiev's life. Our actions shouldn't be considered an attempt to arrest him, but to protect him."

Bakiev, who himself came to power during street demonstrations five years ago, remained defiant on April 11, calling for United Nations peacekeepers to prevent "chaos" in the country. He told Reuters he wouldn’t step down, but that he's ready for negotiations with the provisional government "in the interests of the country."

"I'm not going to strike a pose that I'm a president, I'm not giving up my credentials despite such casualties and you can do whatever you want, let the country fall into chaos," he said. "That's not my position. Although they are indeed an illegitimate government, let's sit at the negotiating table and try and get to a legitimate level [of discussion]."

Bakiev said he hasn’t fled the country because he's not to blame for the protesters' deaths. He said he'd been targeted in his office during the demonstrations by a sniper, who missed only because Bakiev had left the room to stretch his legs. He said he didn’t order troops to shoot at civilians, but that his guards had retaliated by themselves.

"I express my deepest condolences to the families who lost their children, relatives," he said. "But I would like to reiterate that the first shots have been fired from there. The services that were protecting the White House were well equipped not to allow this. They used tear gas, rubber bullets. But when the shots were fired at the White House, aimed at the president's windows, it was natural for security forces to fire back without any orders. It resulted in huge human casualties."

Bakiev warned any attempt to kill him would "drown Kyrgyzstan in blood," and invited an independent international commission to investigate this week's events.

Jockeying For Position

RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, who's in Jalal-Abad, says there are fewer people than usual on the city's streets, but that otherwise the city of 25,000 appears calm.

Residents say they haven’t seen any protests or clashes and aren’t worried about possible violence. Most locals say they support the country's new interim government.

Jalal-Abad's new acting mayor, Meder Usenov, who says he was installed by local opposition groups three days ago, says members of the old administration have left office, some after handing in resignations. He says the former regional governor stepped down, saying he was too sick to remain in office, and that police and military are loyal to the new authorities.

"Except for his relatives," Usenov said, "Bakiev has no support in this area right now."

Asked why portraits of Bakiev are still hanging around the city, Usenov said municipal workers haven't gotten around to removing them.

He said the interim authorities don’t know where Bakiev is hiding.

In Bishkek, politicians are jockeying for positions in the provisional government.

Government chief of staff Baisalov said the country's new leaders would announce plans to overhaul the constitution within two weeks. He said the powerful presidency would be weakened in favor of a parliamentary system, but that it's not clear if the office would be abolished.

Kyrgyzstan hosts a U.S. air base vital for supplying troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. State Department says Otunbaeva told Washington it would not be closed.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report