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Gunfire at Rally for Deposed Kyrgyzstan President

Gunfire rang out at a rally in southern Kyrgyzstan Thursday, forcing ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee for safety as he was addressing supporters.

Mr. Bakiyev was unharmed in the incident, and there were no immediate reports of injuries.

The former president had just begun a speech to the 2,000-strong crowd in the southern city of Osh, when the shots began.

Witnesses say Mr. Bakiyev's bodyguards lined up in front of him and fired the shots in the air, possibly out of concern for a group of Bakiyev opponents approaching his podium. Supporters of the interim government had been holding a rival rally just a few hundred meters away.

After the shots, Mr. Bakiyev was hustled into a car by his bodyguards and whisked away to safety.

Mr. Bakiyev fled Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, last week after several days of anti-government protests, during which pro-government forces fired on the demonstrators, killing at least 84.

The interim government, led by Rosa Otunbayeva, has demanded Mr. Bakiyev leave the country and stand before an international tribunal.

Mr. Bakiyev has signaled he may formally resign if the interim government guarantees his and his family's safety.

Thursday's unrest comes as international concern grows over the possibility of renewed bloodshed.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, who is in the country for talks, said Thursday that the United States is prepared to offer assistance to the interim government.

On Wednesday, Blake said the U.S. would support a new constitution and parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan.

Russia has already backed the interim government, promising $50 million in aid.

Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, arrived in Turkey Thursday, seeking more economic help. He said his country faces many problems, and renewed accusations that the former government had plundered state funds.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.