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Anti-Government Protests Sweep Kyrgyzstan, 40 Killed

The government of Kyrgyzstan has declared a state of emergency and at least 40 people are dead and dozens injured after police in the former Soviet republic clashed with thousands of protesters in the capital of Bishkek. Kyrgyz opposition leaders are demanding President Kurmanbek Bakiyev step down.

Witnesses say the deaths occurred when protesters clashed with riot police outside President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's office on the main square in Bishkek.

One female protester, who did not identify herself, said riot police used tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowds.

She says there were 300 to 400 men, and it is unclear whether they were officers or simple soldiers, some riot police, others dressed in different uniforms, looking quite threatening. She says the police have been trained to threaten ordinary citizens.

The demonstrators gathered near Mr. Bakiyev's office demanding the president step down after five years in office. The opposition says Mr. Bakiyev, who came to power in a people's revolt in 2005, has not tackled rampant corruption. They also want him to fire many of his relatives, who hold senior governmental positions.

According to opposition supporters, one of their leaders, Temir Sariyev was arrested when he arrived in the country, on a flight from Moscow. Supporters say other opposition leaders have been arrested as well.

The demonstrations follow protests Tuesday in two provincial towns in Kyrgyzstan. In Talas, protesters stormed government buildings and held a regional governor hostage for several hours. In Naryn, witnesses say at least 1,000 opponents took over the local government building, forcing the governor to flee.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan issued a statement saying it is deeply concerned by the unrest and asked that all parties engage in talks to resolve the dispute peacefully.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is urging the former Soviet republic to use the democratic process to settle all political, economic and social disagreements.