- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2005

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan’s parliament yesterday scrambled to restore order to a country gripped by anxiety after the overthrow of the president and said new presidential elections would be held June 26. Police said they had halted rampaging looters after two nights of violent upheaval in the capital.

In a sign of continuing tension, however, acting leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev changed the location of his first press conference at the last minute, saying he had been threatened with assassination. In parliament, meanwhile, competing groups met in separate chambers, each claiming to represent the people.

President Askar Akayev, who disappeared Thursday after protesters stormed the presidential and government headquarters in a swelling protest demanding his resignation, had taken refuge in Russia, the Kremlin confirmed yesterday.

The Kremlin press service declined to give details on Mr. Akayev’s location or when he arrived. Russia has a military base near Bishkek, and there was speculation Mr. Akayev initially found safety there.

Mr. Bakiyev, apparently aiming to placate pro-Akayev forces, said a law granting immunity to the ousted president remained in force. He pledged not to seek vengeance and even found words of praise for the man he had once served as prime minister and later came to vehemently oppose.

“I have no intention of persecuting Askar Akayev. He has done much for democracy and building a sovereign Kyrgyzstan,” Mr. Bakiyev told reporters. “It’s his right to come back or not.”

A semblance of calm returned to the capital during daylight hours yesterday after two nights of looting and sporadic gunfire. An Interior Ministry spokesman said one person died and 129 were arrested in overnight confrontations, but a deputy interior minister said three persons had been killed.

About 2,000 volunteers have joined police in trying to keep order in the capital, where many stores were looted and some burned in the first night of mayhem after the government collapsed Thursday. Early today, the central parts of Bishkek appeared far quieter than on the previous two nights.

Mr. Bakiyev, the acting leader, quickly declared himself a likely candidate for the presidency after the date for elections was announced.

“I think I should run in the presidential elections. God willing, I will,” he said.

Mr. Bakiyev, who has emerged as the key figure among the disunited anti-Akayev forces, was chosen to be acting president and acting prime minister by members of one of two groupings claiming to be the legitimate parliament.

Mr. Bakiyev said Russian President Vladimir Putin called him Friday night and asked how Russia could help the people of Kyrgyzstan. “I’m very grateful to him for that,” he said.

He also said U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young was “one of the first people who came to congratulate me.”

The U.S. Embassy said Mr. Young met with Mr. Bakiyev on Friday, but did not reveal the nature of their conversation. Both the United States and Russia have military bases in Kyrgyzstan, not far from Bishkek.

Mr. Bakiyev’s appointment was the work of members of the parliament that had been in session until mid-March. Claims of fraud in elections to replace that parliament set off the rising wave of protests against Mr. Akayev.

The Supreme Court declared the election results invalid late Thursday, ruling in favor of parliamentarians who had been in power and are now mainly backing Mr. Bakiyev, but parliamentarians who won in the now-voided February and March balloting still contend they are the legitimate parliament. Each group held sessions in separate parliamentary chambers yesterday.

“Our opinion is that we should be the legitimate lawmakers, because the people have chosen us,” said Roman Shin, elected in the most recent vote.

Meanwhile, there’s no sign that Mr. Akayev had resigned, and a purported Akayev statement e-mailed to news media Friday quoted him as denying reports he had stepped down.

That statement raised the prospect Mr. Akayev could try to organize a counterinsurgency from afar, aimed at restoring him to power. Yesterday, news reports said hundreds or even thousands of Akayev supporters were believed to be heading for the capital, but by nightfall they had not appeared.

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