Shattered glass littered the floors, furniture and portraits of the president came tumbling out the windows, and the young men who seized control of Kyrgyzstan's government headquarters Thursday took a break to divvy up packages of crackers they'd ripped out of a carton they came across.
Opposition politicians pleaded in vain with the youths to stop smashing furniture and looting supplies they found in government offices and in a small pharmacy inside the building.
"It's the victory of the people. But now we don't know how to stop these young guys," said Noman Akabayev, who ran unsuccessfully in this year's allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections, which sparked the unrest that has shaken this Central Asian nation of 5 million people to its roots and called President Askar Akayev's leadership into question.
The government's authority had crumbled against the south over the past week, and on Thursday, the opposition concentrated its forces on the capital. A rally of some 1,000 people picked up numbers as demonstrators marched to the government compound.
Some carried yellow narcissus or stuck the flowers in breast pockets as a symbol of their peaceful ambitions a message that had been reinforced earlier in the day by a procession of small children wearing pink and yellow ribbons around their heads, signifying two strands of the opposition.
After the presidential headquarters was seized, a few young men raced up and down the square outside the compound on horseback, bright flags flapping behind them.
The demonstrators were unarmed, and riot police appeared to be equipped only with truncheons and shields not firearms.
Men in plainclothes, wearing armbands in the blue color of Akayev's supporters and beating truncheons against wooden shields, suddenly charged the crowd and pushed it back after a melee in which they threw stones at protesters who retaliated in kind. The crowd surged back, regaining control of a square adjacent to the government building.
Some protesters broke off stone slabs from the square that were later used to smash windows in the government building.
After the confrontation on the square, about 1,000 protesters pushed their way through the rings of riot police guarding the seat of government power, surging in several waves. Within minutes, hundreds were inside exulting and rampaging.
"It's not the opposition that has seized power; it's the people who have taken power. The people," said Ulan Shambetov, an opposition activist who was sitting in Akayev's office chair, surrounded by supporters. "They have been fighting for so long against corruption, against that (Akayev) family."
BAGILA BUKHARBAYEVA (Associated Press)