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Updated: April 16, 2010 20:34 IST

Kyrgyz ponder whether to abandon Bakiyev

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Relatives hold tablets with names of victims during a mass funeral at the Ata-Beyit memorial complex on the outskirts of Bishkek on Saturday. Photo: AP.
Relatives hold tablets with names of victims during a mass funeral at the Ata-Beyit memorial complex on the outskirts of Bishkek on Saturday. Photo: AP.

In the stronghold of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president, residents clustered on the streets on Saturday, holding intense discussions on whether to follow the figures who claim to be the new government.

Some said Kurmanbek Bakiyev did a lot of good for the country and dismissed the complaints of opposition members who drove him out, but many others appeared weary of the country’s turmoil and were willing to support anyone who can bring them a measure of stability and comfort.

Mr. Bakiyev fled the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday after a protest rally against corruption, rising utility bills and deteriorating human rights exploded into police gunfire and chaos that left at least 79 people dead and sparked protesters to storm government buildings. He was believed to be in his home Jalal-Abad region on Saturday.

“He built the economy. He built schools, roads and kindergartens. The protesters were just a minority,” said Aizat Zupukharova, a health worker in Jalal-Abad.

But, she added, “People are afraid to come out.”

“Bakiyev did some good things, but his family led him astray,” said another resident, Sapar Usmonov, referring to widespread allegations that Mr. Bakiyev’s relatives profited hugely and improperly from his nearly five years in office. Those claims echo those made against Mr. Bakiyev’s predecessor, Askar Akayev, who was driven out of office in protests in 2005.

The interim rulers say they have offered Mr. Bakiyev safe passage out of the country if he steps down, but he has made no public sign of capitulation. That stalemate leaves Kyrgyzstan’s near-term stability in doubt, a strategic worry for the West because of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan that is a key element in the international military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The base provides refuelling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and is an important transit point for troops. U.S. Central Command spokesman Maj. John Redfield said that although normal flight operations at the base were resumed Friday, military passenger flights were being temporarily diverted.

Kyrgyzstan’s society is strongly clannish, but there are few overt signs that Mr. Bakiyev’s fellow southerners would coalesce into support for him against the self-declared opposition interim government even though they think well of him.

Jalal-Abad is on the southern side of the soaring mountain massifs that divide Kyrgyzstan into often-rival sections. Mr. Usmonov expressed fatigue with such jockeying for power.

“It doesn’t matter where the president comes from - he just has to be a fitting man,” he said.

Across the mountains in the capital, hundreds of people gathered in one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prestigious cemeteries for the burial of some of those who died on Wednesday. The interments tacitly conferred national hero status on the dead.

“For the sake of the future, for the power of the people, young people gave their lives,” Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and onetime Bakiyev ally who heads the interim government, said at the Ata-Beit cemetery. “The people who came into power five years ago on the wave of revolution turned out to be criminals.”

“We won’t let Bakiyev come back; the people won’t let him back into Bishkek,” vowed mourner Mehlis Usubakanov.

Ms. Otunbayeva said on Friday the base agreement will be continued at least for the near future. Opposition figures in the past have said they wanted to close the U.S. base, located at the international airport serving the capital.

Russia, which also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan, had pushed Mr. Bakiyev’s government to evict the U.S. military. But after announcing that American forces would have to leave the Manas base, Kyrgyzstan agreed to allow them to stay after the U.S. raised the annual rent to about $63 million from $17 million.

The status of the base has been a significant strategic question since the uprising on Wednesday.

“We have no intentions whatsoever to deal with the American base now. Our priority is the lives of the people who suffered. A top priority is to normalize the situation, to secure peace and stability,” Ms. Otunbayeva said on Friday as she visited a Bishkek hospital that had treated many wounded.

Keywords: Political upheaval

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