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Hundreds of mourners gather in Kyrgyzstan capital

Kyrgyz opposition declares mourning period for more than 70 who died in violence that saw president of Central Asian state go into hiding.

MOSCOW // Hundreds of bereaved flooded the center of Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, yesterday to mourn the more than 70 people who died in two days of violent chaos that saw the president of the Central Asian state go into hiding and the opposition declare an interim government. The interim government, headed by Kyrgyzstan's former foreign minister, Roza Otunbayeva, declared an official two-day mourning period that began yesterday in the wake of three days of bloody clashes and looting that left at least 76 people dead.

The Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled the capital for his native region in the south of the country, his political stronghold. There were no signs yesterday that Mr Bakiyev intended to resign, despite assurances by the interim government that it would provide for his safety. Mr Bakiyev told an AFP reporter in the southern city of Jalalabad that he was not expecting war. "My main goal is preventing conflict and civil war," Mr Bakiyev was quoted by AFP as saying.

The interim government yesterday, however, accused Mr Bakiyev of sparking the bloodshed by allowing police on Wednesday to fire live ammunition into crowds of protesters upset over a recent drastic rise in utility prices and alleged corruption and nepotism in Mr Bakiyev's regime. "The entire Kyrgyz people are shocked at the immense cynicism with which [Bakiyev] is trying to place the responsibility for the spilt blood of dozens of peaceful citizens on the opposition," the interim government said in a statement. "Our people, as well as the international community, have no doubts that the Bakiyevs have decided to defend their own power at the price of a bloody slaughter."

Mr Baikyev came to power in the so-called "Tulip Revolution" in 2005, ousting the country's first post-Soviet president. Kyrgyzstan is home to both a Russian military base, Kant, and a US base, Manas, which is a key transit point for US-led coalition forces being deployed to Afghanistan. Russia continued to show its support for Ms Otunbayeva's government yesterday, a day after she had a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, who promised Russian humanitarian aid to the impoverished Central Asian nation.

A senior Russian MP, Konstantin Zatulin, a member of Mr Putin's ruling party, told Ekho Moskvy radio: "If the aid will be distributed and the new authorities can demonstrate not only their readiness to take control, but also their ability to maintain it via democratic methods and willingness to sacrifice personal ambitions in the interest of the country ? then Russia can only win by saving Kyrgyzstan as a functioning government."

Mr Zatulin said that Mr Bakiyev "it appears is not ruling out the possibility of continuing this battle". "This creates a very dangerous scenario for a clash between the south and the north, if Baikyev can convince southerners to defend him," Mr Zatulin said. Ms Otunbayeva warned yesterday that Mr Bakiyev may be preparing for civil war. But Mirsulzhan Namazaliev, a political analyst and director of the Central Asian Free Market Institute, a Bishkek-based NGO, said it was unlikely that Mr Bakiyev could gather enough supporters that could challenge the interim government, which has the support of the army and the police.

"I don't think he has any possibility to consolidate his forces in the south," Mr Namazaliev said in a Skype interview from Bishkek. "There is no one there right now who went out to support him." @Email:cschreck@thenational.ae

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