Kyrgyz government claims control in restive south

BISHKEK Fri May 14, 2010 5:43pm EDT

1 of 5. Supporters of ousted Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev throw stones as they defend the administration headquarters in Osh May 14, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Alexei Osokin

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BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan's interim government said it regained control across the volatile south on Friday after at least two people died in violent clashes with supporters of the ousted president.

Officials and witnesses said interim government forces took back the administration headquarters in Osh and Jalalabad a day after backers of Kurmanbek Bakiyev seized the buildings in a challenge to the new government's authority.

The showdown has underscored worries about stability in the mainly Muslim, ethnically divided nation which hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases.

Bakiyev, who himself came to power as a result of a revolt in 2005, fled the Central Asian nation after an April 7-8 uprising, and has taken refuge in Belarus.

The United States and Russia have expressed support for the interim government and are keen to prevent any further unrest in the ex-Soviet republic strategically located near Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Bakiyev supporters seized government headquarters in all three southern provinces -- Osh, Jalalabad and Batken -- and also took over the Osh airport forcing Defense Minister Ismail Isakov to arrive by helicopter.

Interim authorities said they regained control in remote Batken late on Thursday.

On Friday, a crowd of their supporters marched to the government headquarters in Osh, the main southern city, and took it over after scuffling with guards. No serious injuries were reported.

In Jalalabad, a day-long confrontation that left two people dead and dozens wounded ended when interim government supporters took control of the administration building, officials said.

"A special operation is under way to comb Jalalabad's area and catch the ones who were shooting," Temir Sariyev, a deputy interim government head, told Reuters. "Bakiyev has now shown to the whole world that he will stop at nothing."

Sariyev said units of vigilantes had been set up across the nation "to disrupt any attempt to destabilize the situation."

A crowd torched a house that belonged to Bakiyev's brother Kanybek in his home village of Teyyit near Jalalabad, Interim government chief of staff Edil Basailov said.

Russian's Interfax news agency reported the crowd had also burned down a richly decorated white yurt -- a traditional Central Asian felt tent that used to be a symbol of the Bakiyev clan and was used by the ousted leader for media interviews.

The Health Ministry said 63 people were injured in Jalalabad clashes, 34 of them had gunshot wounds.

VIOLENCE

Home to a complicated patchwork of ethnic and tribal rivalries, Kyrgyzstan risks ethnic tension and Islamic extremism in the Ferghana Valley, which straddles the twisting borders dividing it from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

"The longer this micro-level violence goes on, the more it's going to ruin the interim government's credibility and legitimacy," Alexander Cooley, a Global Fellow with the Open Society Institute and an associate professor at Columbia University, told Reuters.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, "urges all concerned to show restraint and to resolve issues peacefully through dialogue," his spokesman said.

The European Union called on all "political actors" in Kyrgyzstan to refrain from violence and finalize the draft constitution, bring it to popular vote in a referendum and hold fair and transparent elections.

"I am convinced that, in the present situation, there is no alternative to the way chosen by the provisional government to return to full constitutional order in the country," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said Moscow believed there was no need for Russia's interference and Kyrgyzstan's interim government was strong enough to restore order, Russian news agencies reported.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's newly appointed special envoy on Kyrgyzstan, Vladimir Rushailo, arrived in Bishkek late on Friday to meet interim leader Roza Otunbayeva.

"Our aim is to help Kyrgyzstan in every area," he told reporters after the meeting without elaborating.

Last month's upheaval disrupted operations at the U.S. Manas air base, a refueling and transit hub for thousands of military personnel heading in and out of Afghanistan every month. The new government has promised to hold elections in October.

"With this kind of political disorder and chaos, the base will become a bigger and bigger issue as Kyrgyzstan approaches elections," said professor Cooley of Columbia University.

The base issue might be used by some politicians in the election campaign, Cooley said, adding that Russian aid could also be conditional on political demands.

Interim authorities said the seizures of government buildings were a coup attempt and they had detained two Bakiyev allies -- his former adviser Usen Sydykov and Kyrgyz Communist party head Iskhak Masaliyev -- who had masterminded the unrest.

(Additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek and Hulkar Isamova in Osh; writing by Steve Gutterman and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Matthew Jones)