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Kyrgyz Opposition Protesters Storm Government Headquarters

  • Lisa McAdams

Anti-government demonstrators have stormed presidential headquarters in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek. The opposition is pledging to hold new parliamentary elections.

Thousands of opposition supporters have seized the seat of Kyrgyzstan's government, meeting limited resistance from hundreds of police and interior ministry troops.

The take-over was swift and chaotic, lasting little more than two hours. Live televised reports from the scene showed scuffles between pro-government and opposition supporters, armed with sticks and stones, moments before the opposition entered the premises.

First reports say two demonstrators were injured, one seriously.

A short while later, one demonstrator was shown waving a national flag from the second floor window of the building. Others threw desks, chairs, and papers from nearby windows to thousands of cheering opposition supporters below in the main square.

There has been no word from President Askar Akayev who is reported to have fled the country.

Some reports from Bishkek say the opposition is holding talks inside government headquarters. It is not immediately clear if they are talking among themselves, or with the government or international mediators.

The country's former prime minister, Kurmanbek Bakiev, who is emerging as one of the key opposition figures during the demonstrations, has announced that new elections will be held. That has been a key demand of the opposition, which alleges massive vote rigging and fraud in the recent elections. The fraud allegations have been backed up by international observers.

But Mr. Bakiev says order must first be established and looting stopped. He also says the opposition is now in control of national television, but there is no way to immediately confirm that report,

Meanwhile, latest reports indicate the defense and security ministers, earlier barred by the opposition from leaving the premises, have since been freed.

Thursday's unrest in Bishkek came during the first major opposition rally in the northern capital, which has always been viewed as an Akayev stronghold.

Political analyst Andranik Migranyan told Russia's Echo Moscow radio that the swift turn of events could spell the end of the Akayev regime - but not necessarily. But Mr. Migranyan says the opposition must first settle on a leader, before making plans on how best to keep the ethnically and economically-mixed country together.

Over the past week, the fractured Kyrgyz opposition has also taken control of at least two of seven regional capitals, as well as other smaller locales. Violence broke out during at least one of those sieges.

There has been no official public reaction to the events from neighboring Russia, which maintains a military base not far from the Kyrgyz capital. But defense ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov told Interfax that Russian forces would remain neutral concerning the ongoing political unrest.

Neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are expressing rising concern and calling for immediate negotiations between the government and opposition. The fear among many in the region is that civil war could erupt, if a negotiated settlement is not found.

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