By Maria Golovnina BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership said on Friday it had control over the armed forces and would do everything to prevent a civil war in the Central Asian country which hosts both U.S. and Russian air bases.
Roza Otunbayeva, who heads a provisional government so far recognised only by Russia, offered President Kurmanbek Bakiyev safe passage from the country after accusing his supporters of stoking a violent response to an uprising that ousted him.
“We have enough resources and capabilities and all the people’s support that we need,” Otunbayeva said. “All armed forces are under our control.”
“We will do everything possible to prevent civil war.”
Otunbayeva led opposition to Bakiyev in Wednesday’s uprising, which has brought the former Soviet republic closer to Moscow and raised doubts about the future of the U.S. Manas air base, a vital cog in NATO military operations in Afghanistan.
“Bakiyev has the opportunity to leave the country,” Otunbayeva told reporters. “We will guarantee his security, only his personal security, if he resigns.”
The U.S. Manas air base resumed normal operations on Friday, a spokesman at the base said, after cutting flights back flights because of the violence nearby in the capital Bishkek.
However, personnel have not been allowed to leave the base since the trouble began, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command in Washington said.
Pentagon officials say Manas is central to the war effort against the Talaban, allowing around-the-clock flights in and out of neighbouring Afghanistan with about 50,000 troops passing through last month alone. However, the new Kyrgyz leadership has said it might shorten the U.S. lease.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quick to offer aid to the new Krygyz rulers, who have said Moscow had helped to oust Bakiyev.
“The biggest evidence of a Russian hand in the coup is the fact the Russians were so quick off the mark to recognise the new regime, while the U.S. and China were still trying to figure out what’s going on,” said Nick Day, chief executive of business intelligence firm Diligence LLC.
The uprising was sparked by discontent over corruption, nepotism and rising utility prices. A third of the population live below the poverty line. Remittances from the 800,000 Kyrgyz working in Russia make up about 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Bakiyev fled to the south of the country, where he has traditional support in the regions of Osh and Jalalabad, while his security forces fired on protesters besieging the government building in the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday.
“(Bakiyev’s) forces are not preparing to surrender. You can see how many incidents of violence there are around the city orchestrated by their side, by Bakiyev’s supporters,” Otunbayeva said. “We have information that there were several bombs planted in three public places in Bishkek.”
Vigilante groups organised by the self-proclaimed government spent the night battling looters in Bishkek to return calm to the city, where at least 75 people died in Wednesday’s clashes.
The uprising is likely to lead to fresh haggling over the U.S. Manas air base, which has provided a lucrative source of income to Kyrgyzstan’s governments.
A senior Russian official, who declined to be named, said on Thursday that Bakiyev had not kept a promise to shut the U.S. base and Kyrgyzstan should have only a Russian air base.
Omurbek Tekebayev, a former Kyrgyz opposition leader in the provisional government, said on Thursday that the duration of the U.S. air base’s presence could be shortened.
But James Nixey, analyst at think tank Chatham House, said concern about the continuation of U.S. operations from the Manas airbase was probably unfounded. “Any future Kyrgyz government will need the money and shoulder the political flak,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament approved the base’s closure in February 2009 after securing pledges of $2 billion (1.3 billion pounds) in aid and credit from Russia. However Washington later renegotiated its rent and paid $180 million to Kyrgyzstan to keep the base open.
Otunbayeva indicated that in the south of the country of 5.3 million people the situation was more fluid. “In Osh we now have a governor who belongs to our forces,” she said. “In Jalalabad, a governor who opposes Bakiyev’s rule came to power today. We think they need help in order to stabilise the situation.”
The new Kyrgyz prosecutor said he would open a criminal case against Bakiyev’s son Maxim, who heads a Kyrgyz investment agency, and his two brothers.
“We have testimonial evidence that these people had given orders to shoot against civilians,” said Baitemir Ibrayev, the general prosecutor under the new self-proclaimed government.
On Friday, mourners gathered in central Bishkek and at funerals around the city for the victims, many of them enraged by the actions of the security forces, who had fought running battles with armed protesters.
“Bakiyev must be tried and executed for all these crimes,” said Fatima Imanaliyeva, a former prosecutor in tears on the main square in Bishkek.
Additional reporting by Robin Paxton, Conor Sweeney and Guy Faulconbridge; writing by Philippa Fletcher, editing by David Stamp/Diana Abdallah