- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

UPDATED:

TEYIT, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — The deposed president of Kyrgyzstan left the country Thursday for neighboring Kazakhstan, allaying fears of new violence in the Central Asian nation that hosts a key U.S. military base backing the war in Afghanistan.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev flew out from the sourthern city of Jalal-Abad in a military transport aircraft, witnesses said.

Kazakhstan, which currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called Mr. Bakiyev’s move an “important step toward stabilization of situation.”

Mr. Bakiyev’s departure follows the provisional government’s warning that he should either quickly leave the country or face a trial.

He was driven from the capital, Bishkek, on April 7 after a protest boiled over into gunfire; protesters then stormed government buildings. At least 83 people died in the violence.

Mr. Bakiyev’s efforts to gather support in Kyrgyzstan’s south, his clan power base, suffered a severe blow earlier Thursday when he tried to speak to a rally in Osh, the region’s biggest city. Within a few moments of his taking the stage, gunfire split the air and he was hustled into a car and driven away.

Witnesses said the shots came from his bodyguards who may have been frightened by a group of Bakiyev opponents who were approaching the rally.

Although there were no reports of injuries, the incident marked a humiliating setback in Mr. Bakiyev’s effort to claim he is still the legitimate president.

Mr. Bakiyev had said earlier he would be willing to resign if security guarantees were given to him and close relatives. The interim authorities have offered him such guarantees but refused them for his family. Mr. Bakiyev’s opponents have blamed him and his family for last week’s violence but also for widespread corruption.

On Wednesday, Mr. Bakiyev spoke by telephone with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin’s office didn’t release any details of the conversation, but the Russian premier had earlier offered a strong backing to Mr. Bakiyev’s foes.

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov said President Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev reached an agreement that let Mr. Bakiyev fly to Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Mr. Bakiyev’s departure raised a hope for a quick settlement of the crisis in the impoverished ex-Soviet nation hosting a key U.S. air base at the capital’s airport.

The Manas base has resumed full operations, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Thursday. “Refueling operations continue as usual, and the transit of troops has resumed,” the embassy said.

The troop transports to and from Afghanistan had been suspended since last week, other than a brief resumption Friday to fly a few hundred troops from the base back to the U.S.

Russia, which also has an air base in Kyrgyzstan, has shown a growing impatience with the U.S. military presence in the region it considers its backyard.

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Putin had met with a member of the provisional Kyrgyz government who had come to Moscow to seek financial assistance. Russia responded with promises of $50 million in aid and loans and 25,000 tons of fuel to help with the spring planting.

Associated Press writers Sasha Merkushev in Jalal-Abad and Yuras Karmanau and Leila Saralayeva in Bishkek contributed to this report.

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