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5 Aug, 2010 11:42

Anti-government sentiment swells in Kyrgyzstan’s capital

Police in Kyrgyzstan have used live rounds and tear gas to break up anti-government protesters, just outside the capital Bishkek. Riot police, who have been on standby, opened fire after being attacked with stones.

According to Kyrgyzstan's president, Rosa Otunbaeva, the situation in the country is now under government control.

”This was an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country and to bring an end to peace in the capital Bishkek," Otunbaeva said. "Protestors wanted to take over power by force, so we had no choice but to take action and our security forces took the necessary measures using special equipment. Right now the situation is under government and police control and there is no danger to public safety.”

The police fired tear gas and shots in the air to disperse protesters – who are supporters of former presidential candidate Urmat Baryktobasov – because they were attempting to break through barricades on the road to Bishkek. Two people were slightly injured in the process.

Later on Thursday afternoon Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a source in the Kyrgyz administration as saying that law enforcers have detained Urmat Baryktabasov and six of his closest associates.

The police said they had to take measures not to allow the crowd to get into the capital since they had obtained information that the protesters were armed, and it was feared that they would use the weapons in Bishkek, writes Interfax.

In addition, the Main Internal Affairs Directorate told the agency that Baryktobasov’s supporters rejected the authorities’ proposal that his party – “Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan” – could take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In the capital, several thousand protesters held a demonstration near the parliament building. The crowd was also dispersed by the police force which shot in the air and used stun grenades.

Meanwhile, not far from the opposition rally scene, government supporters were gathering for their own meeting.

Anti-government protesters also demanded that the police removed checkpoints at the entrance to the city and allowed supporters of Urmat Baryktobasov to enter. The protesters claimed, writes RIA Novosti, that their leader as well as several buses with his supporters had been stopped not far from the capital.

Kyrgyz Interior Minister Kubatbek Baibolov stated that the opposition was planning a “violent and armed seizure of power” in the country.

“It was found out that weapons – including grenades, carbines, pistols and others – were being handed over,” he said. It is also known, he said, that criminals – members of organized gangs – were involved in Thursday’s rallies and were paid for participating in them. Baibolov said that Baryktobasov attacked three employees of the criminal investigation departments; one of them is currently in a grave condition.

“Everyone who attempted to seize power and the criminals will be detained,” he stated.

The minister has also urged the population not to rise to the provocation and avoid taking part in mass rallies. Baibolov recommended that the capital’s citizens avoid staying out late, since harsh measures may be taken against the instigators of the unrest.

In 2005, after the so-called “Tulip Revolution”, the businessman attempted to run for president, but was denied registration because of dual citizenship. In protest, his supporters seized the government headquarters and held it for several hours. Baryktabasov fled the country and returned only after the former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s was ousted earlier this year. Now Baryktabasov and his supporters demand that the criminal charges against him are dropped and that he is allowed to take part in next presidential election.

It is rumored that the politician’s supporters could have seized some weaponry at a military unit in the Issyk Kul region, writes RIA Novosti. However, Kyrgyz authorities denied that the unit had been disarmed. They also refuted reports that a state of emergency has been declared in the country.

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General's Office received a request from Kazakhstan for the extradition of Baryktobasov. He is suspected of committing economic crime on the territory of Kazakhstan, reported Itar-Tass, citing Farid Niyazov, a spokesman for the republic's government.

Ivan Safranchuk, from the Russian State University of International Relations, told RT that the current unrest in Kyrgyzstan can have wider international consequences.

“There is growing instability in the north of Afghanistan. And this is just a few hundred kilometers away from south Kyrgyzstan. So if Kyrgyzstan becomes an uncontrolled territory where there is no real authority and where there is rule of force and some regional and clan leaders, then those who are under pressure in Afghanistan may think ‘Well, we have another place to go.’ And they can go there through the territory of Tajikistan, also not a perfectly controlled territory,” said Ivan Safranchuk.

Today's unrest is the latest in a series of violent incidents that have shaken the country since an uprising toppled former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev earlier this year.

He was forced to flee in April when protests in the north of the country soon spread to the capital and turned bloody. Shortly after, an interim government was ushered into power to restore order.

However, the relative calm was soon broken in June, when inter-ethnic violence erupted in the south of the country, leaving hundreds dead and injured.

The volatile situation in the country is being closely watched from abroad as Kyrgyzstan is home to foreign military bases – notably the US transit centre in Manas, which assists operations in Afghanistan, and a Russian air base in Kant.