TEYYIT, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev emerged from five days of hiding on Monday to address a crowd of followers in his southern stronghold, and warned of bloodshed if the new government tried to arrest him.
It was Bakiyev’s first public appearance since he fled the capital on April 7 as opposition protesters seized control in the face of security forces who fired into the crowds, killing dozens.
Bakiyev struck a defiant tone as he spoke to least 2,000 supporters at a rally in his home village of Teyyit, saying his opponents in the capital were out for blood and calling on followers to join rallies across the south.
“I am the president and no one can depose me,” Bakiyev told the rally in a 25-minute speech that was interrupted by chants of “Bakiyev, Bakiyev, Bakiyev” and loud applause.
“I appeal to all of you who gathered here, to those who traveled from the regions, please convey all of my words to locals and please tell them I am here in Kyrgyzstan, that I have not fled anywhere,” Bakiyev said.
During the turmoil, which has opened up the specter of conflict in an impoverished Central Asian country where the United States operates an air base, Bakiyev fled to his stronghold in the southern region of Jalalabad.
When asked by reporters about a special operation that the interim government said it planned against him, Bakiyev warned that it would end in bloodshed. [nLDE63B025]
“Let them try to seize me. Let them try to kill me,” he said outside his family tent, or yurt.
“I believe this will lead to such a great deal of bloodshed, which no one will be able to justify.”
“Tomorrow we plan to hold a rally in the central square of Jalalabad where I will be meeting my people,” he told supporters to rapturous applause.
Bakiyev, who was guarded by about a dozen armed men, spoke in Kyrgyz on a podium under a green tarpaulin and was watched by locals including bearded village elders.
He said rallies would be held across the southerly regions of Osh, Jalalabad and Batken. Traditional plov -- spiced rice with meat -- was handed out to supporters.
“My main goal is to stay with my nation. If you support me, I will continue working,” he said.
“I turn to those leaders who have not yet been replaced. Hold on. You are the legitimate authorities.”
Supporters said people from the south would rally.
“Kyrgyzstan’s south is entirely for Bakiyev. He worked well and honestly and he will improve Kyrgyzstan,” said Meder, an 18-year-old finance student in Teyyit.
Bakiyev has denied ordering riot police and troops to shoot into crowds of opposition protesters and says he was nearly killed several times on April 7 by a sniper and by protesters who attacked his car as he fled the government compound.
“The opposition is out for blood because their rallies and pickets have failed to topple me. I was saved by my amour-plated car. Otherwise I could have been killed,” he said.
He said that he had been forced to disband some of his guards because of threats against their families, but that he was still surrounded by a core of loyalists.
“I do not intend to step down merely at the whim of this gang of bandits,” he said. “I am still surrounded by armed people, but when these tragic events are over, they will turn in their weapons.”
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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