Minister killed in Kyrgyzstan uprising

15Jan

Opposition followers killed Kyrgyzstan’s interior minister, took the deputy prime minister hostage and captured state television in a deadly revolt on Wednesday against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

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Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades in repeated efforts to disperse thousands of protesters surrounding Bakiyev’s offices in the capital Bishkek, but retreated as demonstrators tried to ram the gates with an armoured vehicle.

Health ministry official Larisa Kachibekova told AFP that at least 17 people had died and more than 140 were injured in the riots.

In a desperate bid to contain the unrest, Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov declared a state of emergency.

But shortly after the announcement, opposition protesters stormed the Kyrgyz television centre, forcing a halt to all programs, in a dramatic sign that the government was fast losing its grip.

A source in the office of Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev then revealed that he had been killed in riots in the northwest hub of Talas where the first protests had erupted.

Minister attacked by protesters

Kongantiyev had been attacked by protesters in Talas who had also taken deputy prime minister Akylbek Zhaparov captive, the Kabar Kyrgyz state news agency reported.

In Bishkek, explosions from stun grenades reverberated across the city and the crackle of automatic weapons fire filled the air as protesters in the main square gasped for breath in a fog of tear gas.

Amid appeals for calm from Russia, authorities in the ex-Soviet republic said three opposition leaders had been arrested for perpetrating “serious crimes”.

The United States, which maintains an air base in Kyrgyzstan used in the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan, also voiced “deep concern”.

The riots in Bishkek were the culmination of spiralling protests by the opposition which accuses the government of rights violations, authoritarianism and economic mismanagement.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 protesters overturned cars and set them on fire as they marched from the opposition headquarters towards the presidential offices, witnesses said.

Protesters appeared to have seized several heavily armoured police vehicles and were standing atop them waving red Kyrgyz flags and the blue flag of the opposition movement.

Demonstrations across the country

The violence came a day after more than 1,000 opposition protesters burst through police lines and took control of government offices in Talas.

In the central city of Naryn, hundreds of opposition protesters on Wednesday stormed the regional government headquarters after the local governor refused to negotiate, local witnesses told AFP.

Witnesses in the city of Tokmak, just outside the capital, said around 2,000 demonstrators had gathered there. Residents in three regions near the southern town of Osh also told of protests in the streets.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country perched at the strategic junction between China, Russia and southwest Asia, is among the poorest countries to have emerged from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

It has been plagued by corruption and chronic instability and the troubles resemble widespread unrest that washed over the country in March 2005 and resulted in the ousting of President Askar Akayev.

Opposition leaders accuse the Bakiyev government of basic rights violations, authoritarianism and arbitrary economic management that has resulted in sharply higher prices for basic goods and services.

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