- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — President Askar Akayev reportedly fled yesterday after protesters stormed his headquarters, seized control of state television and rampaged through government offices, throwing computers and air conditioners out windows.

A leading opponent of the Akayev regime, Felix Kulov, was freed from prison and praised the “revolution made by the people.”

Mr. Kulov said Mr. Akayev had signed a letter of resignation, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Members of the reinstated parliament, which had been in power before disputed elections in February, met last night to discuss keeping order in the nation and conducting a new presidential vote, perhaps as early as May or June.

Legislators in the upper house elected a former opposition lawmaker, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, as interim president, but the lower chamber did not immediately approve the choice.

Mr. Kadyrbekov, a communist lawmaker in the previous bicameral parliament, had been disqualified by authorities from running in the disputed elections in February and early March, which fueled the protests.

Opposition activist Ulan Shambetov, who briefly sat in Mr. Akayev’s office chair to celebrate, praised the latest uprising to sweep a former Soviet republic.

“It’s not the opposition that has seized power, it’s the people who have taken power. The people. They have been fighting for so long against corruption, against that family,” he said of the Akayevs.

The takeover of government buildings in Bishkek followed similar seizures by opposition activists in southern Kyrgyzstan, including the second-largest city, Osh.

Those protests began even before the first round of parliamentary elections on Feb. 27 and swelled after March 13 runoffs, which the opposition said were seriously flawed. U.S. and European officials concurred.

Also yesterday, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court declared the elections invalid and recognized the former parliament as the legitimate legislature, said former parliamentary speaker Abdygany Erkebayev.

Mr. Akayev’s whereabouts were not known. Both the opposition and Russian news agencies said he had left the country, but U.S. officials raised doubts about the reports.

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev appeared on state TV and declared: “Akayev is no longer on the territory of Kyrgyzstan.”

There are about 1,000 U.S. troops at Manas air base outside Bishkek. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he didn’t think they would be adversely affected by the turmoil.

The State Department called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but it did not condemn the acts of violence yesterday.

“Our position is that the future of Kyrgyzstan should be decided by the people of Kyrgyzstan, consistent with the principles of peaceful change, a dialogue and respect for the rule of law,” spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report in Washington.

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