Crowd storms Kyrgyz government building; troops regain control

Truncheon-wielding troops used tear gas Friday to break up a crowd of protesters who stormed the Kyrgyz government headquarters in a new eruption of unrest just weeks before elections to replace the Central Asian nation's ousted president.

Observers said the chaotic scenes showed the failure of the opposition leaders who seized power in the March uprising to restore order - representing a major challenge to overcome after their expected victory in next month's polls.

The protesters said they were supporters of Urmat Baryktabasov, a candidate who was denied registration for the July 10 presidential election, but interim President Kurmanbek Bakiyev accused former President Askar Akayev of funding the disorder.

The authorities regained control of the building about an hour after the crowd of about 2,000 forced its way through a gate surrounding the government headquarters and hundreds stormed the building.

The Health Ministry said 39 people were injured, and 12 of them were hospitalized.

Acting Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov accused Baryktabasov of organizing the unrest, a charge denied by his party. Election officials say his registration was denied because Kyrgyz officials had proof he was a citizen of neighboring Kazakhstan.

Tuigunali Abdraimov, chairman of the Central Election Commission, showed reporters Kazakh government documents saying Baryktabasov had received Kazakh citizenship in August 2003.

A spokeswoman for Baryktabasov's political party, Bermet Turduniyazova, told The Associated Press that neither Baryktabasov nor the party was involved in the storming.

The unrest underscored the high tensions in Kyrgyzstan less than a month before the presidential vote. The election was called after a March 24 uprising forced Akayev to flee. Seven candidates have been registered to take part in the election, including Bakiyev, the front-runner.

Bakiyev became prime minister and acting president after the revolt. He struck a deal with former security chief Felix Kulov - under which Bakiyev will choose Kulov as prime minister if elected - to ease fears of possible regional tensions following the elections.

Irina Zvyagelskaya, a leading expert on Central Asia with the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies, said the alliance had averted fears of civil strife between the north and south of the clan-dominated country. Bakiyev is a southerner while Kulov comes from the north.

But she also warned that instability remained a potent threat because of the collapse of law and order following the March uprising.

"The consequence of the revolution was not just the toppling of Akayev, but the disintegration of the state apparatus and law enforcement structures. It will take some time to bring order. The presidential elections are very important, not least because they will confer legitimacy on the new leadership," said Zvyagelskaya.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the campaign, called on all sides in Kyrgyzstan to respect the rule of law.

"The OSCE expects all political forces in Kyrgyzstan only to use peaceful means to solve any election related disagreements," said Ayhan Evrensel, an OSCE spokesman.

Bakiyev said 10 police and Interior Ministry officers had been injured by stones.

He said authorities were searching for Baryktabasov and other organizers, and he criticized security officials for failing to anticipate the unrest.

"If necessary, I will defend this building and this authority with weapons in my own hands. I know how to use weapons," he said.

Violence broke out earlier in the week in the southern city of Osh, when security guards opened fire on market traders demanding fair market prices. Seven people were injured in the clash Monday, two seriously.

The crowd on Friday swept aside approximately 50 policemen and 20 National Guardsman who had been patrolling the building. Police had earlier sealed off the square outside the building.

Up to 100 Interior Ministry troops carrying riot shields and truncheons sealed off entrances to the building that was stormed. They then started advancing on the crowd outside the building, beating their shields and causing protesters to break and run.

Police later forced protesters out of the building and out of the courtyard, but the crowds lingered outside.

KADYR TOKTOGULOV, Associated Press Writer

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