MINSK/BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s new rulers stamped their authority on Wednesday on the southern stronghold of ousted leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who issued a defiant statement from exile saying he was still president.
The interim government has struggled to restore order after an April 7 uprising against the president, which left at least 85 people dead and disrupted flights through a key U.S. airbase supporting operations in Afghanistan.
Authorities said they had arrested a number of Bakiyev allies in the southern town of Jalalabad who last week seized a regional government building and deepened a stand-off with the capital Bishkek.
Self-proclaimed Jalalabad governor Faizulla Rakhmanov was among those rounded up. The interim government said it was now in charge of the town.
Minutes earlier, Bakiyev made his first statement since taking refuge in the Belarussian capital Minsk and told reporters he still considered himself president:
“I don’t recognise my resignation... only death can stop me,” Bakiyev said, reading from a written statement.
“I will do everything to restore constitutional order to Kyrgyzstan. I call on international leaders not to recognise the authority of this illegitimate gang.”
The leader of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, said the statement was the “bravado of a man agonising over his own helplessness.”
Russian agencies cited an unnamed foreign ministry official saying Moscow no longer considered Bakiyev president. The United States and Russia have engaged with the interim government and offered assistance.
There was no apparent repeat of the ethnic violence that hit the outskirts of Bishkek on Monday and Tuesday. Five people died in attacks on ethnic Russians and Meskhetian Turks by looters trying to exploit the post-revolt turbulence to seize land.
“The situation is under the complete control of the interim government,” Otunbayeva told Moscow’s Ekho Moskvy radio. “The situation in Jalalabad is also normalising.”
The attacks had prompted the Kremlin to order the Russian defence ministry to protect Russians. It was unclear what steps might be taken, though Moscow sent some 150 paratroopers earlier in the crisis to protect personnel at its Kant airbase.
After days spent hunkered down in the south, Bakiyev fled Kyrgyzstan last week for Kazakhstan from where the Kazakh ambassador to Bishkek delivered his hand-written resignation.
He found refuge this week in Belarus where he was welcomed “as the president of Kyrgyzstan” by President Alexander Lukashenko.
The interim leaders accuse Bakiyev of corruption and nepotism and say he must answer for the deaths in the uprising when police and troops repeatedly opened fire on protesters, some armed.
The government says it will pursue swift reforms and hold parliamentary and presidential elections within six months. On Wednesday it said it had asked the United States for $10 million to help conduct the polls.
Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Robert Woodward