INTERNATIONAL

Protests bring down Kyrgyz Government

MOSCOW, MARCH 24. The Kyrgyzstan President, Askar Akayev, has fled the country, and the Prime Minister resigned after protesters overran the presidential compound and other government offices in the capital, Bishkek, on Thursday.

Mr. Akayev and his family flew to Kazakhstan hours after Opposition supporters broke through police lines and forced their way into the main government building on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported. This followed clashes between demonstrators and government loyalists when thousands of protesters converged on the square in front of the government complex to demand the resignation of Mr. Akayev over the alleged rigging of a recent parliamentary poll.

Police fired blank shots to stop the attackers, but stopped short of using live ammunition citing orders from the President. Dozens of people were taken to hospital with injuries but no casualties were reported.

The Opposition also captured the state television network and released from prison one of its most popular leaders, the former Vice-President, Felix Kulov.

The Prime Minister, Nikolai Tanayev, tendered his resignation, an Opposition leader said on television. However, most other ministers stayed on the job at the request of the Opposition to avoid a power vacuum.

Crowds of protesters burnt down government cars and looted several supermarkets and jewellery shops in Bishkek as police packed up and left.

Annulled

The Supreme Court later today annulled the election results, which gave pro-government candidates over 90 per cent of the seats in the new Parliament, and sparked large-scale protests across the country. The court recognised the former parliament as the legitimate legislature.

Opposition leaders have set up a coordination committee and called an emergency session of the former Parliament.

Thursday's developments took the Opposition by surprise.

"Today's events were spontaneous, they were not prepared," one of the Opposition leaders, Kyrmanbek Bakiyev, said on local television.

Kyrgyzstan became the third post-Soviet republic after Georgia and Ukraine where the change of regime has come through the so-called "velvet revolution."

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