Toppled Kyrgyz president refuses to quit

The toppled president of Kyrgyzstan defied calls to resign Thursday after a bloody people's uprising as the country's new rulers announced plans for elections and the disbanding of parliament.

Kyrgyzs gather to mourn revolt victims on central square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Friday, April 9, 2010.

As Russia and the European Union pledged support to an interim administration that took power after a nationwide revolt, the man chased from power after a five-year rule warned that the country faced catastrophe.

Although the exact whereabouts of Kurmanbek Bakiyev were unknown, he released a statement insisting that he would not throw in the towel.

"Today Kyrgyzstan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe," he said in the statement on local news website 24.kg, considered his Internet mouthpiece.

"I declare that as president I have not abdicated and am not abdicating responsibility," he added.

Ex-foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, who has been declared interim leader, said Bakiyev had fled the capital and was trying to rally support in a southern stronghold after a revolt against his rule which left at least 75 people dead.

But she said fresh presidential elections would be held in six months time as she secured support from the Russian government, still the key foreign player in the former Soviet republic which also hosts a US airbase.

A health ministry official told AFP 75 people had been killed and over 1,000 injured in the riots which swept the central Asian republic on Wednesday, although a senior opposition figure put the death toll at more than 100.

Kyrgyzstan has been plagued by corruption and chronic instability and the uprising was the culmination of growing opposition anger fuelled by widespread fraud and irregularities in last year's presidential polls.

The country's interim interior minister ordered looters to be shot on sight, after major pillaging that accompanied the riots, including of Bakiyev's residence where everything from radiators to plants was taken.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the re-establishment of constitutional order and announced he was sending an envoy to the country, Otunbayeva appealed for calm and told the armed forces to refrain from force.

"The president is trying to consolidate his electorate in the south, in order to continue defending his positions," Otunbayeva said at a news conference. "The (interim government) insists that he stands down."

The parliament, she added, would be disbanded and the provisional government would temporarily perform the duties of both the president and parliament.

"Before the new parliament is elected the provisional government assumes its duties," Otunbayeva added.

General Ismail Isakov, who has taken over as interim defence minister, said key military leaders had pledged their allegiance to the new government.

"The army has moved entirely to our side," Isakov said.

Otunbayeva said a US airbase outside Bishkek which is seen as vital to the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan would remain open despite the power shift.

But careful not to upset Moscow, she also spoke by phone with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who in turn offered aid.

"Putin noted that... Russia has always provided and remains ready to provide necessary humanitarian aid to the people of Kyrgyzstan," Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian premier, told AFP.

The European Union also said it was ready to provide urgent humanitarian assistance as it appealed for calm.

"A rapid return to public order is essential to avoid further loss" of life, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.

Ban, who has just returned from the region, said it was "time to work urgently to establish constitutional order."

Nikolai Makarov, the Russian military's chief of staff, said an extra 150 elite paratroopers were being sent to its military base just outside Bishkek.

Makarov said the extra troops were being sent to the base to help ensure security for Russian military personnel and their families already based there.

In fierce clashes in Bishkek on Wednesday, security forces had fired live bullets into the air as between 3,000 and 5,000 protestors overturned cars and set them on fire. Similar scenes were seen throughout the country.

Looters also ransacked the home of Bakiyev's family, enraged by evidence of the first family's lavish lifestyle in one of the poorest countries to have emerged from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

"The authorities robbed the people, now it's the people who are stripping the authorities," said Nurali Baimatovich, a school headmaster, as he watched the looters carry off their trophies.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the unrest was an internal issue but acknowledged the sense of popular resentment.

"This is Kyrgyzstan's internal affair, but the form the protest took showed ordinary people's extreme outrage at the existing regime," he said.

Source: AFP

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