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Updated: April 15, 2010 17:25 IST

Gunfire at deposed president’s rally in Kyrgyzstan

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Gunfire broke out at a rally where the deposed president of Kyrgyzstan was speaking to supporters on Thursday. Kurmanbek Bakiyev was hustled into a car and driven from the scene, and there were no apparent injuries in the crowd.

Mr. Bakiyev, accompanied by two of his brothers, returned to his home compound in the village of Teyit about two hours later. He made no comment.

The gunfire occurred seconds after Bakiyev began speaking to the crowd of about 5,000 in Osh, the largest city in the southern region that is Bakiyev’s support base.

Although there were no reports of injuries, the gunfire underlined the tensions that persist in the second week of the crisis in the ex-Soviet Central Asian country where both the United States and Russia have military bases.

Witnesses said the shots were fired into the air by Mr. Bakiyev’s bodyguards, possibly because of concern about a group of Bakiyev opponents who were approaching from a separate rally about 300 meters (yards) away.

Since fleeing the capital of Bishkek last week, Mr. Bakiyev has made a series of public appearances, clearly testing how much support he has to try to resist the interim authorities who have taken control in the capital.

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

By having to flee Thursday’s rally in what has been the heartland of his backers, Mr. Bakiyev appears to have suffered a significant setback in his drive to claim that he is still the country’s legitimate president.

“I think the end of this situation has taken place. He is locked behind the doors of his home,” said Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the opposition figures who claimed power after Mr. Bakiyev left Bishkek.

“He killed all those young people. All the people are against him. How can he even turn up here?” said Alikh Mansurov, an unemployed Osh resident.

It remains unclear how much support Mr. Bakiyev has among the country’s military and police. In order to reach the Osh rally from his hometown, Mr. Bakiyev and his convoy had to pass through at least four checkpoints, one of which was heavily armed with three armoured personnel carriers and about 20 machine guns.

No arrest warrant has been issued for Mr. Bakiyev, but one is in effect for his brother Zhanybek, former head of the state guard service, who was among those in the convoy.

Mr. Bakiyev has said 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 have refused them for family members.

They also say Mr. Bakiyev would have to leave the country or face prosecution; his opponents blame him both for last week’s violence and for alleged widespread corruption.

Mr. Bakiyev has shown no signs of willingness to leave Kyrgyzstan, and no country has stepped forward publicly with offers of shelter.

The U.S. military base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, is a key piece in the NATO campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, providing both refuelling flights and a transit point for troops going into or out of Afghanistan.

Mr. Bakiyev spoke late Wednesday by telephone with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister’s office said on Thursday, noting that the call was made on Mr. Bakiyev’s initiative. No details were given, but Mr. Bakiyev was unlikely to have won Mr. Putin’s support.

Earlier in the day 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.

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