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Kyrgyz vigilantes battle looters in capital city

* Self-proclaimed government organises vigilante groups

* Sporadic gunfire heard throughout night

* Police report no deaths overnight

* Ousted president remains in south of country

By Maria Golovnina

BISHKEK, April 9 (Reuters) - Vigilante groups organised by Kyrgyzstan’s self-proclaimed government spent the night fighting looters to return calm to the Kyrgyz capital on Friday. Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the night but a government spokesman said nobody was killed.

“It’s quiet again in the capital. No one died overnight,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdykalyk Ismailov. “There are still some groups of looters but the city is largely under control.”

Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership dissolved parliament on Thursday, a day after protesters stormed government buildings and forced the president to flee to his stronghold in the south of the poor but strategically important Central Asian nation.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has refused to step down, though he has offered to talk to the opposition leaders who have claimed control of Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet state of 5.3 million people that hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases. Events in Kyrgyzstan, where at least 75 people died in violent protests on Wednesday, have overshadowed an arms reduction pact signed in Prague by U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

While the presidents signed the pact on Thursday as part of an effort to “reset” strained relations, a senior official in Medvedev’s delegation urged Kyrgyzstan to close the United States’ Manas airbase in the country.

The new Kyrgyz leadership, fronted by 59-year-old Roza Otunbayeva, said on Thursday that Russia had helped oust Bakiyev and that they aimed to close the Manas airbase.

Omurbek Tekebayev, a former opposition leader who took charge of constitutional matters in the new government, said on Thursday that “Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev”.

VIGILANTE GROUPS

The self-proclaimed government organised vigilante groups to guard Bishkek overnight and battle looters, who had stripped the main government building and set fire to cars and buildings.

Groups of four or five armed men stood guard at street corners in the city centre on Friday morning.

“It’s a little bit scary, because there were looters everywhere,” said 38-year-old volunteer Arman Ospanov. “I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, but we must guard our own homes, wives and children.”

Ismailov, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said groups of looters, some of them drunk, had driven through Bishkek at night shooting randomly from the windows of cars without registration plates. These reports could not be independently verified.

Mukhtar, who gave only his first name, arrived at the main open-air market to sell his fruit and vegetables on Friday, even though the market officially remained shut.

“It was a frightening night,” he said.

“People were running everywhere. The market remains closed because of the looters, but my fruit and vegetables are rotting so I’m here to sell them anyway.”

Much may now depend on Bakiyev’s response. The ousted president spoke to Reuters on Thursday from an undisclosed location in the south of Kyrgyzstan, saying he had no plans to step down. The new government has demanded his resignation.

Otunbayeva, who served as acting foreign minister under Bakiyev after helping propel him to the presidency during the “Tulip Revolution” five years ago, said his overthrow was a response to the “repression and tyranny” of his regime. ** For more on the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, see [ID:nLDE6360UW] (Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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