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Kyrgyz Opposition Calls for President's Resignation


Thousands of opposition supporters in Kyrgyzstan are staging a mass protest in the capital, Bishkek, calling for President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's resignation. The opposition accuses the president of breaking his pledge to introduce constitutional reforms in parliament that would have curtailed some presidential powers.

Thousands of protesters, waving the red flags of Kyrgyzstan's main opposition party, called the Movement for Reform, converged on Bishkek's central square for what they say will be an extended rally, lasting as long as a week. The opposition is calling for President Bakiyev's resignation, saying he has failed to implement his main election promise of carrying out key democratic reforms.

Thousands of police and interior ministry troops have deployed across the capital, while numerous streets leading to Bishkek's central square, the site of the opposition rally, have been blocked off.

Nearby, about 100 servicemen of Kyrgyzstan's National Guard are standing vigil outside government headquarters, which was stormed during anti-government protests, last year. Those protests disintegrated into days of mass looting and riots that led to the ouster of long-time President Askar Akayev, who was forced to flee to Russia.

President Bakiyev was elected several months later. His presidency has been marred by prison riots, high-profile murders, and regional battles for control of lucrative businesses.

Independent political analyst Kumar Bekbalatov, who heads the Bishkek regional office for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, tells VOA local frustrations against President Bakiyev are running high.

"First is the feeling that the president has been somehow personalizing (consolidating) his power to such an extent that he will be slowly introducing some sort of authoritarian rule," Bekbalatov said. "And, the other is that the family, close relatives and mostly his son, have been accused of gaining control over the strategic areas of Kyrgyzstan's economy."

Bekbalatov says the president's failure to introduce key constitutional reforms in parliament, as promised earlier this week, is viewed by the opposition as the last straw. He says the opposition is vowing to settle for nothing less than President Bakiyev's resignation.

Hours earlier as the protesters were gathering, President Bakiyev told parliament he would introduce reforms, but on his own time. He says the political opposition should not exert pressure. He also upped the stakes by vowing that he would not step down.

Bekbalatov says the opposition protesters are ready for political battle.

"The people on the square seem to be agitated and also very resolute. They seem to be prepared for any worst-case scenario. Everyone is getting nervous about such a possibility," he said.

The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Karel De Gucht, has urged Kyrgyz authorities and the opposition to exercise restraint.

American officials are also hoping to avoid seeing any fresh outbreak of civil unrest in Kyrgyzstan, which is home to an American military base used to support Afghanistan.