Anti-government Protests in Kyrgyzstan Turn Violent

BY Larisa Epatko  April 7, 2010 at 4:34 PM EST

Thousands of protesters stormed government buildings and clashed with police in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on Wednesday, with more than a dozen people reported dead.

Tensions have been running high in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan for years — the previous president was deposed in what became known as the Tulip Revolution — and recently spilled over into violent clashes with police over high prices of gas and allegations of corruption against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Bakiyev reportedly fled the capital on Wednesday and had not issued any statements by nightfall.

An opposition leader, Termir Sariyev, told the Associated Press that the entire government is resigning and a new prime minister, interior minister and security chief have been named. The AP could not verify the claims.

At least 17 people were reported dead, and the opposition attributed the deaths to police firing on the crowds of protesters.

“It doesn’t look good,” said David Stern, GlobalPost’s reporter in the region. “It’s a small country. The last time they had protests like this was I think it was 2001 or 2002 when four people were killed in a southern Kyrgyz town, and that caused a great outrage.”

The United States has a military base just outside Bishkek to help battle the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. The protests have not had an immediate impact on the presence of the Manas air base, and most Kyrgyz are interested in keeping it in their country because of monetary reasons and the security it provides, said Stern.

Bakiyev renegotiated the American presence shortly after he came to power, and completed a deal in 2009. However, “a new group could come in and decide to re-open the negotiations, or just long-term instability in the country could impact the presence of the base,” he added.

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