BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s interim government said Thursday it will root out and punish organisers of what it called a coup attempt by supporters of ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the nation’s volatile south.
Bakiyev supporters seized government buildings in three southern regions of the impoverished Central Asian state in a coup attempt, the interim government said, and appealed for popular support as it prepares to track down those responsible.
“We know by name all organisers of this action. We have enough forces and means to round them up and arrest them during the upcoming day,” Azimbek Beknazarov, a deputy interim government head, said in a live speech on national television.
“We will start setting up units of vigilantes in every district, city and village today. I invite everybody to come out to preserve the people’s government,” said Beknazarov, who oversees security and defence in the interim government.
Any worsening of tensions in the south, at the heart of the Ferghana Valley, Central Asia’s most flammable and ethnically divided corner, would be of concern to the United States and Russia, which both operate military bases in Kyrgyzstan.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appointed Vladimir Rushailo, a former Russian interior minister and security council secretary, his special envoy on establishing closer relations with Kyrgyzstan.
“We are receiving information and are trying to understand what is happening,” said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Just hours after the appointment, Kyrgyzstan’s interim government’s chief of staff Edil Baisalov said Rushailo would visit Bishkek Friday for talks with top cabinet officials — a clear sign of Moscow’s support in hard times.
“We have known Rushailo for a long time as a friend of Kyrgyzstan,” Baisalov told Moscow’s Rossiya-24 channel.
Supporters of Bakiyev, who fled the country a month ago after an uprising, seized the buildings in the cities of Osh, Jalalabad and Batken, kidnapped the governor of Jalalabad region and tried to take control of the area’s main airport in Osh.
Jalalabad is the heart of Bakiyev’s power base in the south.
“This is the work of Bakiyev’s supporters,” said interim government spokesman Farid Niyazov. “They have one goal: to seize power... But they will fail.”
There were no reports of deaths but the unrest was the biggest challenge to the interim government, which has struggled to impose order in the impoverished Muslim country of 5.3 million since toppling Bakiyev in a revolt last month.
Unrest during the uprising against Bakiyev on April 7 disrupted troop flights out of the Manas air base which the United States uses to support the war in Afghanistan.
The interim government says it wants to extradite Bakiyev from his refuge in the former Soviet state of Belarus and put him on trial for corruption and for allowing troops to fire into crowds of protesters on April 7, killing dozens.
Belarus, whose maverick leader Alexander Lukashenko has refused to extradite Bakiyev, said all its diplomats had left the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek for security reasons.
Bakiyev, who is secluded in a country residence in Belarus, has so far made no comment on the unrest.
The interim government said it had foiled a coup plot by Bakiyev supporters in the capital the previous day and sent Defence Minister Ismail Isakov to Osh to try to quell the revolt, but it was not immediately clear what resources he had at his disposal.
Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces are small, poorly equipped and demoralised after the revolt against Bakiyev, during which they stayed mainly in barracks and avoided taking sides.
A spokeswoman for Bakiyev’s supporters claimed that thousands of people wanted to march on the capital.
“People want to gather and go to Bishkek, there are 25,000 of them, and they want to tell the interim government that it is not delivering on its promises and that president (Bakiyev) is legitimate,” she said.
Osh, where hundreds of Bakiyev supporters took control of a local government building after scuffling with guards, is located in the Ferghana Valley, a melting pot of ethnic and tribal tension that was the scene of deadly ethnic clashes in the last days of the Soviet Union.
Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, Michael Stott, Olzhas Auyezov and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Louise Ireland