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Kyrgyz President Appears In Russia, Talks of Quitting

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page A10

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 29 -- Askar Akayev, who disappeared when protesters overran his office last week, surfaced in Russia on Tuesday, saying he might resign the presidency if given legal protections. He held out the possibility of returning to Kyrgyzstan to talk things over.

Akayev made his statements to Russian reporters near Moscow, where he said he had retreated for his safety. "My term in office will expire on October 30, 2005. I haven't resigned yet," he said in an interview with Echo Moskvy radio broadcast Tuesday evening. "Currently, I can see no reason to resign."

Supporters of Kyrgyzstan's outgoing parliament argue with backers of the newly seated legislators in capital. (Viktor Korotayev -- Reuters)

But in another interview, on Russian state television, he said he was willing to resign if he were "given the relevant guarantees and it fully conforms with Kyrgyz legislation."

On Thursday, Akayev, 60, and his family boarded a Russian-made Mi-8 military helicopter at the presidential mansion on the outskirts of the capital for the short hop into neighboring Kazakhstan, according to witnesses. Later, he journeyed to Russia.

The hurried departure came two hours after protesters pushed past guards and swarmed into his downtown office, known as the White House. Akayev said he had forbidden the guards to use deadly force against the protesters, and said that a decision to remain in the country "would have been the beginning of a civil war."

In comments to the Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, he said the war "would have grown into an interregional and interethnic conflict, with all the most dangerous consequences following from this."

Kyrgyzstan has a significant north-south social divide, with a substantial minority of ethnic Uzbeks living in the south. Interethnic fighting there killed hundreds in 1990. But the demonstrations against Akayev, whose family's enrichment during his 15 years in office offended many in a country where 44 percent of the people live in poverty, had no overtly ethnic bent. And it was far from certain that security forces would have fired on unarmed demonstrators in a country where the killing of five protesters near the southern town of Aksy remains a scandal three years later.

"Look, the army is never going to fight against its own people," said Lt. Col. Torobek Kolubaev, at his post at the gate of the presidential mansion.

In Akayev's absence, opposition leaders appointed a former prime minister, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, as interim president. As a political compromise, they also agreed that a new parliament, whose contested election touched off the protests that swept out Akayev, would be the country's law-making body. Akayev's son and daughter, who hold seats in the new parliament, left the country with their father.

Akayev said the new parliament was the only legitimate authority in the country and pointedly commended its newly named speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev, as an old ally. That praise came a day after Tekebayev publicly appealed to Akayev to negotiate the fate of his office.

Akayev said if his security were guaranteed, he would "start dialogue" with Tekebayev and the new parliament "so that life in Kyrgyzstan could return to the constitutional framework."

"Democracy in Kyrgyzstan is in danger today, because those who committed this unconstitutional seizure of power are acting outside the law," he said. "Therefore, it is very important for Kyrgyzstan's future progress and for its image in the world to return the process to the constitutional path. This is the solution that I see."

On Tuesday, Bakiyev gathered government workers in the shattered White House to warn them against accepting bribes or hiring their relatives. News service reports said the workers listened in stony silence.

"A huge part of the state system was devoted to the election process," Bakiyev said, referring to the parliamentary contests widely described as corrupt. "That is not a secret. Fighting corruption and paying pensions and benefits is our number one priority now."

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