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Protesters in Kyrgyzstan Denounce Ballot Fraud

Police Station Burned; Offices Overrun

By Kadyr Toktogulov
Associated Press
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page A11

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 20 -- Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of Kyrgyzstan's president over allegedly fraudulent elections rampaged through a southern city Sunday, burning down a police station and occupying government buildings.

The government said it was ready to negotiate, but Kurmanbek Bakiyev, an opposition leader and former prime minister, said talks would be possible only if President Askar Akayev was involved.

"All other lower-level negotiations will be just a waste of time," said Bakiyev, leader of the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, who lost a bid for a seat in parliament last week.

Some analysts have suggested that Kyrgyzstan is ripe for an outburst of the kind of mass protests experienced in other former Soviet republics, such as those that recently brought pro-Western leaders to power in Ukraine and Georgia.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a statement Sunday, urging the government and the opposition to refrain from using force and to begin a dialogue.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, J. Adam Ereli, said, "U.S. officials have been in contact with both the government and opposition to reinforce this message."

As the police station smoldered in Jalal-Abad, 160 miles southwest of the capital, Bishkek, the regional governor said he lacked enough police to restore order.

Some injuries were reported, according to government officials in the south and a member of the opposition, but numbers were not available.

Protesters occupied seven government buildings across the country of 5 million people. But the riot Sunday was centered in Bakiyev's home town of Jalal-Abad.

The nationwide protests followed opposition charges that the government rigged the parliamentary balloting on Feb. 27 and a runoff on March 13 in which Akayev's loyalists won an overwhelming majority, and his daughter, Bermet Akayeva, and son, Aidar, won seats in parliament.

European governments and the United States also said the elections were seriously flawed, a charge denied by the government.

The opposition also has charged that Akayev, who is prohibited from seeking another term, planned to manipulate the vote to gain a compliant parliament that would amend the constitution to allow him a third term.

Akayev, 60, has denied wanting to serve another term.

As the protests have grown, the opposition has demanded Akayev's resignation and new elections.

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