- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader chose key officials for a new government yesterday and moved quickly to try to quell widespread disorder and looting following the ouster of longtime President Askar Akayev.

Hundreds of youths wandered the rain-slicked streets of Bishkek in mobs, wielding sticks and throwing stones at cars. Helmeted police in bulletproof vests chased them and fired shots in the air.

Mr. Akayev’s whereabouts remained a mystery, although a statement purportedly from him said he was out of the country temporarily, denied he had resigned, and denounced what he called the opposition’s “unconstitutional coup d’etat.”

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev emerged from the parliament building and said he had been named acting prime minister and president.

“Freedom has finally come to us,” Mr. Bakiyev told a crowd in Bishkek. Celebrations also were reported in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the popular uprising began this week in the impoverished Central Asian nation.

But looting continued in the darkened capital last night, with shots fired near a central department store on the main avenue, witnesses said.

“The city looks as if it has gone mad,” said Felix Kulov, a prominent opposition figure who was released from prison during Thursday’s uprising and appointed coordinator of law enforcement.

Mr. Bakiyev’s appointment as acting president was endorsed by a newly restored parliament of lawmakers who held seats before this year’s disputed elections, which fueled protests against Mr. Akayev.

Mr. Bakiyev chose mostly prominent opposition figures for the posts of foreign, defense and finance ministers and chief prosecutor. For the job of interior minister, he picked Myktybek Abdyldayev, a former chief prosecutor whom Mr. Akayev had fired Wednesday.

The new leaders’ immediate challenge in the strategic nation — it has both Russian and U.S. military bases and borders on China — was in halting vandalism and looting that left major stores in Bishkek gutted and damaged by youths who roamed the capital overnight. Mr. Kulov urged police, who have all but disappeared from the streets, to return to work or face punishment, but he acknowledged few had shown up.

“It’s an orgy going on here,” Mr. Kulov told reporters.

After weeks of intensifying protests in the south, propelled by widespread anger over the disputed elections, events moved quickly on Thursday and yesterday, with crowds taking over government buildings in the capital with little resistance and the sudden flight of Mr. Akayev.

“An unconstitutional coup d’etat has been staged in Kyrgyzstan,” Mr. Akayev said in the statement distributed to some news media in Kyrgyzstan.

“My current stay outside the country is temporary,” the statement said. “Rumors of my resignation are deliberate, malicious lies.”

In the e-mailed statement, with the sender listed as the Kyrgyz presidential press service, Mr. Akayev said he had given orders not to use force during the uprising, ignoring the advice of his aides, and that he had left the country to avoid bloodshed.

Akayev spokesman Dosali Esenaliyev said he did not know of the statement’s existence, and its authenticity could not be determined.

The Russian news agency Interfax said Mr. Akayev and his family were in neighboring Kazakhstan, but it later cited unspecified sources as saying he had left that country. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin wouldn’t object if Mr. Akayev wants to go to Russia.

Mr. Akayev’s departure made Kyrgyzstan the third former Soviet republic in the past 18 months — after Georgia and Ukraine — to see popular protests bring down long-entrenched leaders widely accused of corruption.

In Belarus, demonstrators tried to rally outside the office of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko yesterday to demand his ouster in a self-declared attempt to emulate the popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan, but they were beaten back by riot police swinging truncheons.

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