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Kyrgyz Opposition Takes Control Amid Widespread Disorder, Looting


Key opposition figures in Kyrgyzstan are claiming control of the government the day after President Askar Akayev reportedly fled the country. Meanwhile, widespread unrest and looting continues in the capital city of Bishkek.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former Kyrgyz prime minister, has taken over as the acting leader of the Central Asian republic. On Friday he named an acting cabinet made up of key figures within the opposition movement and said presidential elections would be held in June.

Mr. Bakiyev appointed a prominent opposition leader, who was released from prison on Thursday, as the new security chief. With the police refusing to patrol the streets of Bishkek, the opposition protests against the Akayev government have disintegrated into rampant disorder and looting.

Jeff Lilley, resident director of the International Republican Institute's office in Bishkek, describes the situation on the ground: "We are in contact with our other colleagues who work in the NGO sector and one colleague told me that he thought he heard gunshots near his house," he said. "Outside the window where I am now we heard some marching and some clamor and then we looked around and it looked as if it was people beating shields walking down the streets with helmets on. And we really sincerely hope that this is the neighborhood militias that have been put together by the new minister in charge of security forces."

The interim government is urging the police to return to work saying their absence has hampered efforts to restore order to the streets.

The south of Kyrgyzstan has been plagued by street protests of varying intensity since the February 27 parliamentary elections, which observers deemed flawed. Only in recent days did the unrest spread to the capital in the north and on Thursday protesters stormed government buildings.

The IRI's Jeff Lilley says much of the looting in Bishkek has targeted government offices and commercial shops with ties to the former president's family. "It looked like it was targeted in some places and absolutely random in other places. The fear is that if things spin out of control then people will start to be targeted. They have not been targeted yet," he said.

Mr. Lilley says if the acting government is unable to restore order quickly it will undermine its credibility.

Kyrgyzstan is the third former Soviet republic where popular protests have led to the ouster of long-serving, increasingly authoritarian leaders. President Akayev at one time was considered to be the most democratic of the Central Asian leaders, but in recent years his regime has cracked down on the opposition and tightened control over the media. The president and his family have also been accused of corruption and illegally profiting from his power.

Mr. Akayev's whereabouts are unknown although the new government insists he has left the country. The former leader reportedly issued a statement that was distributed by Russian news agencies calling rumors of his resignation lies.

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