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Diplomatic Efforts Underway in Kyrgyzstan to Resolve Standoff

Diplomacy is intensifying in Kyrgyzstan to defuse the Central Asian nation's political crisis. A provisional government has taken power in the capital, but a defiant president, who has fled to the south of the country, is refusing to step down.

Leaders of the interim government have been meeting with representatives of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, as well as Russian diplomats.

They are looking to defuse tension following last Wednesday's clash between government forces and demonstrators. Following the deaths of about 80 civilians, President Kormanbek Bakiyev left the capital for his southern stronghold. He denies ordering troops to fire on protesters.

Despite mounting pressure, and increasing de-facto recognition by the international community of the provisional government, the president has not resigned.

President Bakiyev has been telling journalists in Jalalabad that he has done nothing wrong, so there is no reason for him to leave the country or quit his post. The president says he is willing to negotiate with what he calls the illegitimate government in Bishkek so the country can avoid falling into chaos.

Leaders of the interim-government say while they will not use force against the president, they also can not guarantee he will not be targeted for assassination by vengeful relatives of those killed.

Interim-government leader Rosa Otunbayeva says an arrest warrant has been issued for the president. She says once he is arrested, an investigation will be carried out and he will be questioned within the framework of the law.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has telephoned the interim-government leader offering continuing humanitarian assistance and urging a peaceful resolution of the standoff with President Bakiyev. But the United States has stopped short of formally recognizing the provisional government.

Clinton is dispatching Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake to Bishkek.

Although Kyrgyzstan is a small and poor country with little more than five-million people, it is strategically important. The United States and Russia have air bases in the country. The Manas airport is a key logistical base for the NATO-led campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The ouster of President Bakiyev from the capital has strong support on the streets of Bishkek, where he is seen responsible for virtually bankrupting the country by installing corrupt relatives and cronies into positions of power. But President Bakiyev enjoys support in the south where many credit him with improving the lives of the people there during his five years of rule.