- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Opposition supporters and police formed joint patrols to keep order in a southern city of Kyrgyzstan where protesters have seized government offices, and President Askar Akayev pledged yesterday he would not impose a state of emergency despite the protests.

Mr. Akayev’s statement — a day after opposition demonstrators took control of the southern city of Osh and several other towns — appeared aimed at avoiding an escalation of tension in the country, where memories of police killing six demonstrators in 2002 are still strong.

The capital of Bishkek braced for demonstrations that did not materialize. Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city, was peaceful, too, after the protesters allowed government workers back into offices the opposition had seized by force Monday in rallies calling for Mr. Akayev to resign.

The new parliament convened for the first time since the disputed elections that triggered the protests, and Mr. Akayev blamed the opposition for trying to destabilize Kyrgyzstan through violence.

“There are extremists and marginalized forces even in Western countries,” Mr. Akayev told lawmakers. “Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan faces such destructive forces. Members of the opposition have made violent attempts to destabilize the situation using force to take over government institutions and block roads.”

Despite speculation he would introduce a state of emergency, Mr. Akayev said, “I am fully committed to not taking such measures.”

In a later address to the nation, Mr. Akayev said talks with the opposition were possible, but “the mandatory requirement before we can start talks with those who have organized all illegal actions is restoration of legal order and the work of government agencies.”

The opposition demonstrations in Osh and four other towns in Kyrgyzstan’s impoverished south have increased pressure on Mr. Akayev, who has ruled this former Soviet republic in Central Asia for 15 years.

Authoritarian leaders in Central Asia have often blamed any unrest on Muslim militants, but the protest organizers did not voice Islamic slogans and many of the demonstrators are motivated by bad economic conditions and high unemployment.

Ethnicity also may play a role, because about a third of the population in the south are Uzbeks.

Both the United States and Russia have bases in Kyrgyzstan. U.S. troops and other anti-terrorist coalition forces are based at the Manas airport near Bishkek for air operations in Afghanistan.

The opposition is angered over what it charges was widespread manipulation of the Feb. 27 first-round parliamentary elections and the March 13 runoffs.

They took control of Osh using clubs and Molotov cocktails to storm government buildings and force police and officials to flee.

Mr. Akayev, 60, is prohibited from seeking another term and has denied charges that he plans to change the constitution to remain in power.

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