OSH, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Supporters of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president broke into a regional government office in the southern city of Jalalabad on Saturday in a sign of continuing tension in the Central Asian state.
Witnesses said about 500 people demonstrated outside the building. Most eventually dispersed, leaving a few dozen, mainly women, who occupied it and shouted slogans demanding the return of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, toppled in a revolt on April 7.
Bakiyev fled to neighbouring Kazakhstan on Thursday after a week of turmoil that threatened civil war and disrupted military flights from a crucial U.S. air base that supports operations in nearby Afghanistan.
The interim government, which came to power after Bakiyev’s overthrow, said its forces were fully in control of all regions.
“The interim government is carefully watching the situation in Jalalabad,” said Edil Baisalov, the interim chief of staff.
“We will refrain from using force. ... The situation will calm down after a while.”
Witnesses in Jalalabad said the government building remained occupied by locals but the overall situation was calm in the city at the heart of Bakiyev’s tribal stronghold in the south.
Witnesses earlier said the crowd in Jalalabad hurled stones at Bolotbek Sherniyazov, the interim interior minister, after he arrived in the city to lead a security operation to arrest a number of Bakiyev loyalists. He was whisked away unscathed.
“There are some protests (in Jalalabad),” a senior interim official said.
“Locals went into the (Jalalabad government) building and demanded that Bakiyev come back. Our people had to leave the building to avoid confrontation.”
Continued uncertainly in Kyrgyzstan is a worry for the United States and Russia, both of which operate military air bases in the impoverished Muslim nation of 5.3 million.
Some hawks in the new government have called for the base to be shut, accusing the United States of ignoring corruption and human rights abuses under Bakiyev in order to keep the base.
For now, interim chief Roza Otunbayeva says the government would abide by its U.S. base agreements and allow the lease to be extended automatically for another year this summer.
There were conflicting reports on Saturday about Bakiyev’s whereabouts. Kazakh officials said they could not comment on his plans.
Russian media reported he had left Kazakhstan. Bakiyev last appeared in public late on Friday to make a defiant statement on Kazakh state television.
He and his brother have been accused of ordering troops to open fire on protesters after anti-Bakiyev demonstrations exploded into a night of gunfire and chaos on April 7.
At least 84 people died in the violence. Witnesses and Reuters reporters said protesters were armed and fired back, and some civilians may have died in the ensuing crossfire.
Azimbek Beknazarov, an interim vice premier in charge of security, said arrest warrants had been issued for a dozen Bakiyev allies and family members including his brother Zhanybek, the former head of the presidential guards.
“He (Zhanybek) has not surrendered... there will not be any use of force,” said Beknazarov, who indicated the new leaders knew where Zhanybek was. “We will use only diplomacy.”
Beknazarov said 200 criminal cases had been opened to investigate crimes committed under Bakiyev. The new government accuses him of corruption and nepotism, as well as the killings of journalists and politicians.
Beknazarov said the government was investigating allegations that Bakiyev had taken $200 million (130 million pounds) out of the country through local banks as he fled the capital.
Writing by Maria Golovnina in Bishkek; additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; editing by Michael Roddy