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Further Demonstrations In Kyrgyzstan


Protesters rally in Talas on April 6

BISHKEK (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz riot police today fired tear gas and stun grenades into a crowd of hundreds of antigovernment protesters in the capital Bishkek in a bid to disperse the crowd amid ongoing political turmoil.

The crowd had gathered outside the offices of the main opposition party, demanding the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiev just a day after authorities detained opposition leaders Almazbek Atambaev and Omurbek Tekebaev, head of the main opposition Ata-Meten party.

On April 6, thousands of protesters stormed government offices in the northwest town of Talas, demanding the resignation of President Bakiev.

Riot police, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, kicked the protesters out, but after nightfall, protesters were reported to have retaken the building.

Internet access is reported down in some areas.

The clashes have erupted after weeks of tension between the opposition and the government of President Bakiev, which they accuse of cracking down on independent media and fostering corruption.

A doctor at a hospital in Talas told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that at least 30 people were being treated for injuries sustained during the clashes. One person was reportedly shot with a rubber bullet fired from inside a police precinct.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that Omurbek Tekebaev, a leader of the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, was arrested at his home in Bishkek.

Reports say that the former governor of Osh region, Anvar Artikov, and the former deputy speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, Bolot Shernyazov, were also arrested. In Talas, a large crowd outside the police department was demanding the release of protesters who have been arrested.

Protesters defaced a billboard of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Detention Sparked Protests

The day's events began with the reported detention of opposition leader Bolot Sherniazov, who had gone to the provincial administration building to obtain official permission for a rally planned for April 7.

Some reports said Sherniazov was detained briefly then released, though officials denied he was ever held.

Whatever the case, the reports of Sherniazov's detention brought people to both the city's administration building and police station.

With several thousand estimated to have gathered at the government office, some then led an attempt to take over the administration building.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that police did nothing to stop the group entering and then occupying the building.

The crowd announced they had selected their own replacements as interim governor and deputy governor. "We have elected our leader," protester Janat Karabotoev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"We will hold the first session [of the people's] congress tomorrow," she added. "Our main demand is to get rid of the family-run system of governance. We are not afraid of anything. Nobody was frightened. The people's mood is just perfect. About 3,000 people are gathered there."

Governor As Hostage

The reports of the building's seizure brought the first official denial, with the Interior Ministry saying the building had not been occupied, but that a group of several dozen people, "including many in a state of intoxication," had entered and later left.

However, events quickly proved many protesters had gained entry and were staying inside the building -- as Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov later acknowledged.

At an evening press conference convened to address the situation in Talas, Usenov said the situation was "stable" and denied a claim by opposition representatives -- Sherniazov and Koisun Kurmanalieva -- that Governor Beishen Bolotbekov was being held hostage inside the administration building.

Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiev said he was freed when the police temporarily regained control of the building.

Usenov warned that rallies planned for April 7 were illegal and warned people to stay away from them.

Prosecutor-General Nurlan Tursunkulov said a criminal case had already been launched against protesters responsible for the "mass disorder" in Talas. He said it was aimed at what he called a violent seizure of power and change of the constitutional order.

Asanbek Baytikov, the deputy chairman of the parliament's Committee for Defense and Rule of Law, said the protesters went too far and would answer to the law.

"If there are any violations of the law, then those involved in it will be brought to justice. It is unacceptable to do illegal things," Baytikov said, adding that the governor must be appointed, not elected.

International Alarm

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for restraint on all sides. Ban spoke as he wrapped up his first visit to Central Asia as UN secretary-general.

Earlier in the week in Kyrgyzstan, Ban criticized Bishkek authorities for human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Kyrgyz government to allow peaceful opposition protests to take place on April 7, and to refrain from force to break up gatherings. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek has expressed "concern" over the unrest.

Dissatisfaction with Bakiev and his government has been growing for months.

Bakiev came to power after the People's, or "Tulip" Revolution in March 2005 that ousted longtime President Askar Akaev, who many felt was turning the Kyrgyz government into a family business.

Opposition groups today are making the same claim about Bakiev, who has appointed his brothers to state positions and his 32-year-old son Maksim to head the state agency for economic development.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report. With agency reports