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Kyrgyzstan; Taking down a Government 101.

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Putin Urges Calm as Kyrgyzstan Erupts

A Kyrgyz protester kicking at captured police officers outside the opposition’s headquarters in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday morning.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged restraint as Kyrgyzstan descended into chaos Wednesday, with thousands of anti-government protesters storming buildings in the capital, Bishkek, and other cities.

The opposition announced late Wednesday that a new acting government had been formed with a new prime minister, security minister and interior minister.

Bloody clashes between police and anti-government protesters left at least 40 people dead and more than 400 injured, the Kyrgyz Health Ministry said. (More photos of the protests can be viewed here.)

Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev and First Deputy Prime Minister Akylbek Zhaparov were severely beaten by protesters in the town of Talas, where the unrest began Tuesday, the Ferghana.ru news service reported. The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry denied reports that Kongantiyev had died of his injuries.

Online videos showed armed clashes between black-clad protesters and riot police amid gunfire outside government buildings on the rain-soaked streets of Bishkek.

The protesters set fire to the prosecutor's office and looted state television headquarters. Kyrgyz state television and state-controlled Channel Five suspended broadcasting, Interfax reported.

Late Wednesday, opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev appeared on state television and said power had been transferred into the hands of the people, Ferghana.ru reported.

Tekebayev, head of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, had been detained along with other key opposition figures after the protests started Tuesday but was later released.

Protesters on Wednesday also took over regional administration buildings in the cities of Naryn and Karakol and installed new governors, opposition activists said.

Ferghana.ru reported that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had flown out of the U.S. Manas air base, located outside Bishkek, for an unknown destination. RIA-Novosti said protesters had looted his private house in Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished Central Asian nation of 5.3 million people, is seen as a strategic asset both in Moscow and Washington. It hosts the U.S. air base to support troops in Afghanistan, as well as a Russian base.

Putin called on the Kyrgyz government and opposition to avoid violence and denied speculation that Russia had played a role in the unrest.

"Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events," Putin said during a visit to Katyn.

He called the unrest “a purely internal matter” and accused Kyrgyzstan's president of "stepping on the same rake" as his predecessor, Askar Akayev. Both Bakiyev and Akayev incited public anger over alleged widespread corruption and nepotism in their administrations.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led military alliance within the Commonwealth of Independent States, said it would not intervene.

"The organization's rapid-response force is not meant to interfere in domestic conflicts in member states," an unidentified alliance official told Interfax.

Konstantin Zatulin, first deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee on CIS Relations, said the protests showed that Bakiyev had repeated the same mistakes as Akayev.

"He did not keep his word," Zatulin told The Moscow Times, referring to Bakiyev's promises for change when he led violent protests in 2005 — later dubbed the Tulip Revolution — that prompted Akayev's ouster.

Akayev, who now lives in Moscow, urged Bakiyev to step down. "The best outcome for the people of Kyrgyzstan would be the resignation of Bakiyev," Akayev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Bakiyev's problem is that he has repressed the opposition just as Akayev had, said Zatulin, a member of United Russia and head of the CIS Institute, a pro-government think tank.

Anton Belyakov, a Just Russia deputy on the CIS committee, put it more bluntly. "Bakiyev was really engaged in government raiding," he told Interfax.

Committee chairman Alexei Ostrovsky called on Kyrgyzstan to implement democratic reforms. "They must take extreme measures to liberalize the political system, guarantee media freedom, including to opposition outlets, and enable the normal development of businesses," the United Russia deputy said, Interfax reported.

Russian opposition leaders were divided about the implications of the protests.

Oleg Kozlovsky, an activist with the Oborona youth movement, said by letting the protests turn violent, the opposition had ceded hopes for another color revolution in a post-Soviet country.

"With such methods they will hardly achieve anything better [than the current government] if they win," he wrote on his Twitter blog.

Speaking to The Moscow Times, he said he was disappointed to see the violence and looting. "These protests are more like spontaneous riots than an organized regime change. This is not what happened in Ukraine," he said.

He was referring to the 2004 Orange Revolution, where mass protests against election fraud brought a new, pro-Western government to power.

But former independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said Kyrgyzstan's protests were real.

"These are not riots but real protests, and their single reason is Bakiyev and his politics," he said by telephone.

He said the Kyrgyz government was a classic dictatorship — "oppressive, corrupt and clannish — there are very good grounds to overthrow it."

Ryzhkov urged Moscow to intervene swiftly. "Russia has a huge influence over economically weak Kyrgyzstan. If it sends a mission with an energetic leader, it can act as a peacemaker," he said.

By not responding, Moscow risks losing the support of the Kyrgyz, "a people who are traditionally very friendly toward us," he said.

The Foreign Ministry earlier released a statement calling on both sides to abstain from violence. "We believe it is important to find peaceful solutions in order to maintain political stability in a country with which we have friendly relations," spokesman Alexander Nesterenko said in the statement, published on the ministry's web site.

Zatulin said it was too early for Moscow to intervene. "Clearly the unrest is based solely on internal reasons. That is why Russia is not ready to interfere directly," he said.

Alexei Vlasov, a post-Soviet affairs specialist at Moscow State University, said any outside attempt to re-establish order would be foolhardy as long as "the rioters are without leadership."

In Washington, the White House said it was monitoring the situation closely. "We are concerned about reports of violence and looting and call on all parties to refrain from violence and exercise restraint," said National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said, Reuters reported.



"Those people who will not be governed by God

will be ruled by tyrants."

William Penn

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