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New Leadership Is Established In Kyrgyzstan

U.S., Russia Appear to Accept Shift

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page A08

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 25 -- A day after chasing out a president who ruled this mountainous former Soviet republic for 15 years, Kyrgyzstan's new leaders named an interim government Friday and struggled to suppress the looting and arson that have ruined scores of shops in the capital.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former prime minister turned opposition leader, was returned to his former post by parliament. He was also given the duties of president, the title held since 1990 by Askar Akayev, who disappeared Thursday as demonstrators surged into his headquarters, known as the White House, in the third successful street revolt in a former Soviet republic in 16 months.

A man picks through the rubble of a supermarket in Bishkek, the capital. The new leadership called for calm after Thursday night's violence. (Viktor Korotayev -- Reuters)

_____Recent Coverage_____
Protests Topple Kyrgyzstan's Government (The Washington Post, Mar 25, 2005)

_____Kyrgyzstan Protests_____
Video: Protesters stormed the presidential compound in Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, seizing control of the seat of state power after clashing with riot police.
A Look at Kyrgyzstan

The United States and Russia, which both maintain military bases in the poor, largely Muslim country of 5 million people, signaled Friday they were ready to do business with the new leadership that was taking shape.

"Who's running our country?" asked the banner headline in a newspaper here in the capital.

Bakiyev said he was, and called on his countrymen to prevent a repeat of the looting and violence that erupted after nightfall Thursday, causing at least three deaths and scores of injuries.

"As the prime minister and the acting president of Kyrgyzstan, I address you and ask you to be wise, be patient and happy," Bakiyev told a respectful crowd of several thousand in front of the White House, which protesters had overrun 24 hours earlier. "Let's work on concrete things now."

But Akayev appeared to argue that he was still the legitimate leader. In neighboring Kazakhstan, where Russian media reports said he took refuge before leaving for some other destination, a statement bearing his name declared that "an unconstitutional coup d'etat has been staged in Kyrgyzstan."

It said that "my current stay outside the country is temporary. Rumors of my resignation are deliberate, malicious lies." The statement said he had possessed the means to suppress the insurrection but chose not to, so as to avoid violence. There was no way to authenticate the statement.

A mountainous nation with a nomadic heritage, Kyrgyzstan is one of five sparsely inhabited republics in Central Asia that were ruled from Moscow during Soviet days. Akayev, a physicist and former Soviet legislator, led it into independence and governed as one of the region's more tolerant leaders. But, remaining year after year, he came to be widely viewed in the country as an authoritarian ruler who used his power to enrich his family.

On Friday night, officials organized civilian patrols to bolster the handful of uniformed police officers who returned to duty after disappearing from the streets in face of the demonstrators' advance. Gunfire sounded about midnight, apparently warning shots that combined with a rainstorm to disperse a crowd of hundreds of youths approaching a shopping center.

"God forbid anybody would have to have such a revolution," Felix Kulov, a political prisoner who was freed from jail Thursday, said of the violence. "It was a rampage of looting, just like in Iraq." On Friday, Kulov was put in charge of security services.

By day, the capital, which sprawls at the foot of the mountain range that defines this striking country, was almost serene. Traffic was steady, and city work crews in orange vests kept busy clearing debris from the scores of stores looted or burned overnight. "Who needs to tell us to do this? This is our work. This is our responsibility," said Jildash Abdikulov, who was supervising a crew in front of a charred store.

Knots of men stood sentry outside the barricaded gates of the city's main market, an improvised warren of steel shipping containers and stalls. The mood was subdued, not tense, and women and children joined men thronging the sidewalks in the spring weather.

In the city's main square, crowds listened for much of the day to speakers who mounted a portable podium one after another. They alternately congratulated the gathering for the revolution, condemned Akayev as greedy and urged control of the streets after dark.

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