Deposed Kyrgyz president leaves, allowing U.S. outreach to new leaders

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 16, 2010

MOSCOW -- The ousted president of Kyrgyzstan left the country Thursday in a deal with the political coalition that seized power after violent protests last week, ending a long standoff and clearing the way for Washington to recognize and provide aid to the strategically located nation's new government.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev had been holed up in a mountain village since fleeing the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on April 7 after his security forces opened fire on demonstrators. He flew to a city in neighboring Kazakhstan, where the government said it had helped engineer his departure.

The Kazakh government also credited the United States and Russia for what it called "an important step towards . . . the prevention of a civil war in Kyrgyzstan." In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the arrangements for Bakiyev to leave were worked out earlier this week during a meeting among President Obama, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Bakiyev submitted his resignation and left with only his wife and two small children, members of the new Kyrgyz government said, suggesting that the deposed autocrat had dropped demands that two of his brothers suspected of involvement in the killings of his critics and in last week's deadly shootings be allowed to go into exile as well.

The brothers' whereabouts were unclear Thursday night, but the new government said it had launched an operation to detain them. Roza Otunbayeva, head of the interim administration, said that none of Bakiyev's allies had been allowed to leave the country and that those suspected of crimes would be brought to justice. At least 84 people were killed in the clashes last week.

Otunbayeva said her government agreed to let Bakiyev leave at the urging of international mediators to avoid further bloodshed but planned to fully investigate his tenure and demand that he be put on trial in domestic or international court.

Bakiyev's departure coincided with a visit by Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake, who had been sent to Bishkek to clear the air with Otunbayeva and the other former opposition leaders who are part of the new government. They had complained for years that Washington tolerated human rights abuses by Bakiyev, including the killings of more than a dozen journalists and politicians, because Kyrgyzstan hosts a U.S. air base that supplies NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Russia, which considers the U.S. base an intrusion on its sphere of influence, had turned on Bakiyev and all but endorsed the opposition in recent months. Officials said Otunbayeva spoke again by telephone with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin after Bakiyev's departure.

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