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Kyrgyz President Fires Officials as Pressure from Opposition Mounts

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has fired two top officials for failing to prevent recent violence that erupted in the south of the country, following disputed parliament elections the West says were flawed.

Kyrgyzstan's interior minister and prosecutor-general were removed by presidential decree, Wednesday, amid growing opposition pressure on the government.

Presidential spokesman Abdil Seghizbayev says the head of police in the capital, Bishkek, Keneshbek Dushebayev, has been named as the new interior minister. The aide says President Akayev also named the security chief of his administration, Murat Sutalinov, to be the new chief prosecutor.

The spokesman says the opposition has no real legitimate claimsand is only continuing protests to spark widescale unrest and bring down the government.

Mr. Seghizbayev urged Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement and local officials to exercise caution and maintain calm.

The opposition, which won just six of parliament's 75 seats in the elections, is calling for Mr. Akayev to resign and for new elections to be held.

Opponents also reject government claims they represents a radical element of society. The opposition says it represents the wishes of a majority of Kyrgyzstan's people.

Some opposition forces are reported to have boarded buses overnight for the long ride to Bishkek, where they pledge to continue the protests, to keep pressure on the government.

In a nationally-televised address late Tuesday, President Akayev refused to resign and said the only way to resolve the stand-off was through peaceful negotiations.

President Akayev says his government has already attempted to start such negotiations. But he says it is difficult for the government to understand with whom to negotiate from among the fractured opposition forces.

Europe's leading election watchdog, The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has also acknowledged holding exploratory consultations with both sides, in the hope of preventing the situation from escalating into a civil war.

The situation in the economically-disadvantaged south remains tense, with the opposition in control of government buildings in two of Kyrgyzstan's seven regional capitals and a number of smaller locales.

The capital remains calm. But the government has deployed police and interior ministry troops, armed with clubs and plastic shields, to encircle downtown districts.

Neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are expressing concern about the ongoing tensions and are urging both sides to find a resolution by peaceful and constitutional means. Russia and the United States, which maintain military bases in Kyrgyzstan, are also closely monitoring the situation.