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Ousted Kyrgyz president gets support at home as opponents debate his fate

Mourners gather as the interim government works to restore public order after two nights of looting and gunfire. More than 75 people were killed in violent protests this week.

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Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN -- The deposed president of Kyrgyzstan rallied hundreds of supporters to his home village Monday, taunting his opponents in the interim government who debated late into the night whether to exile him via neighboring Kazakhstan or risk further bloodshed by trying to arrest him.

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According to people familiar with the talks, the standoff between Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the opposition coalition that has taken control of this nation is focused on his refusal to surrender two of his brothers. One has acknowledged ordering police to fire on protesters last week and the other is suspected in the killings of more than a dozen journalists and political foes.

The stalemate has slowed international efforts to assist the new government and has contributed to lingering uncertainty about the future of the U.S. air base here that serves as a critical supply station for NATO operations in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have expressed relief that the new government has promised to abide by the existing base agreement, which allows the facility to remain open through at least July 2011. But leaders of the interim administration continued to ask on Monday whether the contracts benefited Bakiyev's family.

Kyrgyzstan could close the base with six months' notice, but a senior administration official expressed confidence that the government would defer a decision until after a new constitution is drafted and elections are held.

"The signal we're getting from them is, 'This is not an issue for us now. The real issue is to restore democracy,' " said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the diplomatic sensitivity.

The interim government warned Bakiyev again on Monday that it was preparing to arrest him, but also acknowledged it was reluctant to take such action for fear of spilling more blood. At least 80 people were killed Wednesday in the clashes between security forces and protesters that forced the president to flee the capital.

"Let them try to take me. Let them try to kill me," Bakiyev told reporters after the rally in the village of Teyit, in the mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan. "This will lead to such great bloodshed. "

In interviews from his compound, Bakiyev has defended his record, saying he has not fled the country because he is innocent. But behind the scenes, he has already signaled a willingness to go into exile with his family, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the talks.

Kazakhstan, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has agreed to admit the Bakiyevs to help avoid further violence and has offered Kyrgyzstan a substantial aid package, the sources said. The Kremlin also appears to support the plan. But the interim authorities -- a diverse and perhaps unstable alliance united primarily by their opposition to Bakiyev -- has hesitated.

Much of the public is demanding that Bakiyev and his family be brought to justice, and a decision to let them go could tear apart the government and hurt its leaders in the coming elections. "Exile is not acceptable. The elites and the opposition will definitely not accept that," said Alikbek Dzhekshenkulov, an opposition leader who has not joined the government.

Some in the leadership have insisted Bakiyev turn over his two brothers, Janish and Marat, in exchange for safe passage out of the country. But a consensus appeared to be forming Monday night to demand instead that they be detained in another country pending an international inquiry.

Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan in Washington contributed to this report.

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