Kyrgyz president says protests are part of a 'coup' against him

Protests sweeping Kyrgyzstan in recent weeks are part of a "coup" designed by criminals, President Askar Akayev's spokesman was quoted as saying Tuesday, as the government signaled it has no intention of accepting vote-rigging charges that have fueled the massive rallies.

"The 'third force,' criminal elements connected to the drug mafia, are in complete control of the situation in Osh and Jalal-Abad, and are struggling to gain power," Abdil Segizbayev said, referring to two southern towns that have seen riots in the past few days.

He called the protests "a putsch and a coup" engineered by criminals, the Interfax news agency reported. "The opposition no longer controls the situation," he added.

The comments came a day after opposition activists _ angered over what they allege was widespread manipulation of this year's parliamentary elections _ took control of Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, using clubs and Molotov cocktails to storm government buildings, forcing police and officials to flee.

The opposition blitz in Osh and four other towns in Kyrgyzstan's impoverished south has turned up the heat on Akayev, who has ruled this ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia for 15 years.

The president sought to stem the mounting tide of protests Monday by ordering a probe into the vote-rigging allegations, but the emboldened opposition vowed to press on to force Akayev to leave office.

The Central Election Commission chief, Sulaiman Imanbayev, on Tuesday announced what he called final results of the Feb. 27 first-round parliamentary elections and the March 13 run-offs, but did not detail those results with breakdowns for individual districts.

However, he said that results in 71 of the country's 75 electoral districts were legitimate _ adding that only one district would require a repeat vote and that the three remaining districts would be disputed in court.

According to preliminary results announced earlier, only six opposition candidates got into the 75-seat parliament.

Imanbayev said elected lawmakers were to be officially registered later Tuesday _ in a sign that authorities are eager to seat the new parliament. Imanbayev brushed off concerns that the move could further escalate tensions.

"The sooner the new parliament starts to work, the sooner the situation in the country will get stabilized," he said. "We work only in accordance with the law, but not under the dictate of various political events."

Meanwhile, the capital Bishkek _ which has so far been calm _ was bracing for possible rallies on Tuesday. Several busloads of Interior Ministry troops and riot police were deployed to guard the perimeter of the main square, next to the president's office and other government buildings.

"The situation is explosive and may go out of control at any moment," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted an opposition leader, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, as saying.

Osh was calm on Tuesday, after protesters allowed government workers back into their offices. Police and opposition representatives launched joint patrols of the city on Monday night, said Col. Ermekbai Kochorov, chief of the financial department of the Osh city police. He said about half the city's police force had returned to work on his request.

A group of 50 young men, sporting red ribbons on their arms, were backing up police.

"Our common goal is security in the city," said their leader, Bazarbai Soltuyev.

About 100 opposition protesters wearing yellow ribbons were gathered in the central square in Osh on Tuesday.

"We're sitting here for justice because the elections were not held fairly. We want Akayev to resign," said Madamin Turduyev, a 54-year-old protester.

Protests against Akayev were launched after the first round of voting and swelled after subsequent run-offs that the opposition and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said were seriously flawed.

Russia has condemned the protests, with its Foreign Ministry saying that "extremist forces" must not be allowed to undermine the Kyrgyz government.

Many observers have likened the events in Kyrgyzstan to massive opposition protests that swept former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine in the past two years, ousting unpopular governments. However, Kyrgyzstan's opposition forces have lacked unity and charismatic leadership.

Akayev, 60, is prohibited from seeking another term, but the opposition has accused him of manipulating the parliamentary vote to gain a compliant legislature that would amend the constitution to allow a third term. Akayev has denied that.

Akayev was long regarded as the most reform-minded leader in ex-Soviet Central Asia, but in recent years he has shown increasing signs of cracking down. In 2002, his reputation was tarnished after police killed six demonstrators who were protesting the arrest of an opposition lawmaker.


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