Thousands of grieving, angry mourners flooded the capital’s main square on Friday to honour victims of Kyrgyzstan’s revolt - with many blaming the country’s absent president for ordering security forces to fire on those protesting his government.
Flights, meanwhile, resumed at the U.S. Manas air base in this Central Asian nation after being halted Wednesday during the uprising. Manas is a key support centre for the international military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Covering their eyes and folding their hands in prayer, families and friends sobbed for the lives that were lost in the sprawling Ala-Too Square, where protesters were shot dead at an opposition rally as some stormed the main government building in Bishkek, the capital.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled the capital to seek support in his clan’s southern power base, was often a focus of their anger.
“We grieve over our heroes. They are real heroes who have sacrificed their lives for the future of Kyrgyzstan,” said Khatima Immamaliyeva, a 44-year-old office worker holding a red carnation and crying. “Bakiyev must bear responsibility for the deaths.”
Another mourner, 26-year-old Azimbek Sariyev, said “my friend Talas perished. I hope he hasn’t died for nothing. We have ousted Bakiyev, and won’t allow the rulers to mock us.”
At least 76 people died in the violence and more than 1,400 were injured, the Health Ministry reported on Friday. That figure included 67 people injured overnight in clashes between looters and security forces.
In an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, U.S. Central Command spokesman Maj. John Redfield said normal flights had restarted at Manas as of Friday afternoon. Some 1,100 troops are stationed there, including contingents from Spain and France, in support of NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the opposition’s self-declared interim government, 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.
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 as she visited a Bishkek hospital on Friday that had treated many wounded.
She also said the interim government would not negotiate with Mr. Bakiyev, whose regime the opposition has accused of corruption.
Kyrgyzstan also hosts a Russian military base and is the only nation where both Cold War foes have bases.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the revolt in Kyrgyzstan before signing an arms treaty in Prague on Thursday.
Michael McFaul, Obama’s senior director for Russian affairs, emphasized that the U.S. did not view the conflict as any kind of proxy struggle between the U.S. and Russia.
“The people that are allegedly running Kyrgyzstan ... these are all people we’ve had contact with for many years,” Mr. McFaul said. “This is not some anti-American coup, that we know for sure. And this is not some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup, there’s just no evidence of that.”
In a sign that Russia may lend its support to the opposition, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Ms. Otunbayeva on Thursday. Any suggestion that Russia is backing the new leadership would add to the pressure on Mr. Bakiyev to step down.
The deputy head of the interim government, Almazbek Atambayev, flew to Moscow on Friday to talk with unspecified Russian government officials.
Mr. Bakiyev, who fled the northern capital for his stronghold in the south, told a Russian radio station on Thursday that “I don’t admit defeat in any way.” But he also said he recognized that “even though I am president, I don’t have any real levers of power.” “What has taken place is a veritable orgy carried out by armed groups and I do not believe this is a defeat for me,” Mr. Bakiyev said.
He spoke from southern Jalal-Abad region, where Mr. Bakiyev’s popularity is said to remain high - raising concerns he might try to secure his survival by exploiting the split between the more urban north and rural south.
Since coming to power in 2005 amid street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Mr. Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability. But the opposition said it came at the expense of democratic standards and accused Mr. Bakiyev of enriching himself and his family, just like the former ruler he overthrew.
Keywords: Political upheaval,