Kyrgyz opposition figure claims control a day after president ousted in massive protests

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, acting to fill a power vacuum after the ouster of the president, named four acting key ministers and a chief prosecutor Friday, the speaker of parliament's lower house said.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev chose mostly prominent opposition figures for the posts of foreign, defense and finance ministers and chief prosecutor. For the job of acting interior minister he picked a former chief prosecutor who had been fired by deposed President Askar Akayev on Wednesday.

By appointing them as acting ministers, Bakiyev avoids the need to have them approved by parliament's upper house.

Bakiyev also signed an order appointing an acting head of presidential administration, state secretary, communications minister and governors of the northern Chui and the southern Osh and Jalal-Abad regions, which were the epicenter of anti-Akayev protests.

Acting Foreign Minister-designate Roza Otunbayeva said she would recall the country's ambassador to the United States, Baktybek Abdrisayev, who has refused to recognize the new government.

The opposition worked quickly in an effort to restore order a day after protesters drove Akayev's government from power, unleashing widespread looting.

The new leadership faced an immediate challenge in halting vandalism and looting that left major stores in the capital, Bishkek, gutted and many others damaged by rowdy youths who roamed the city overnight, with few police to be seen.

"The city looks as if it has gone mad," said Felix Kulov, a prominent opposition leader released from prison during Thursday's turmoil and appointed head of law enforcement.

Kulov, a one-time interior minister and security chief, immediately urged police, who have virtually disappeared from the streets, to return to work or face punishment. But he acknowledged Friday that few police had shown up and looting went on unimpeded.

"It's an orgy going on here," Kulov told reporters. "We have arrested many people, we are trying to do something, but we physically lack people."

The drama of the events, propelled by widespread anger over disputed elections, was heightened by Akayev's sudden flight. It was not yet clear where Akayev was.

Bakiyev emerged from the Parliament building Friday and said he had been named Kyrgyzstan's acting prime minister and president.

"Freedom has finally come to us," Bakiyev told a crowd in the central square of the capital, Bishkek.

His appointment as acting prime minister _ and thus, under the constitution, acting president _ was endorsed in a late-night session by a newly restored parliament of lawmakers who held seats before elections that fueled protests against longtime leader Akayev.

The move set Bakiyev squarely at the helm of the leadership emerging from the fragmented former opposition.

Kyrgyzstan became the third former Soviet republic over the past 18 months _ after Georgia and Ukraine _ where popular protests have brought down long-entrenched leaders widely accused of corruption.

Bakiyev told the crowd on the square that Akayev was "not on the territory of the republic. I don't know where he is."

Kulov said Akayev had fled to a foreign country after being turned away by Russia. The Russian news agency Interfax said Akayev and his family were in neighboring Kazakhstan.

"He had a chance to resign, but he fled," Kulov said in televised comments. "He wanted to go to Russia, but the Russians didn't accept him."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said, however, that the Kremlin wouldn't object if Akayev wanted to go to Russia, but the country's Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Moscow doesn't know where Akayev is.

Putin, speaking during a visit to Armenia on Friday, lamented the violence and looting in Kyrgyzstan, saying that "it's unfortunate that yet again in the post-Soviet space, political problems in a country are resolved illegally and are accompanied by pogroms and human victims."

He urged the Kyrgyz opposition to restore order quickly, and praised the Kyrgyz opposition leaders for helping develop bilateral ties during their earlier work in the government.

Bakiyev urged opposition supporters not to allow looting, and stressed that the popular opposition figure Kulov would coordinate law enforcement.

He said he would fight corruption _ a major complaint against Akayev's regime _ and the clan mentality that roughly splits the country between north and south.

"I will not allow the division of the people into north and south," he said. "We are a united nation."

The square was the scene of swift political change Thursday, when opposition protesters seized control of the presidential and government headquarters. The takeover followed weeks of protests over disputed parliamentary elections the opposition said were aimed at keeping Akayev in power.

The Red Cross reported dozens injured in the turmoil Thursday, while lawmaker Temir Sariyev said three people had been killed and about 100 injured overnight.

On Friday, a shopping center on the main avenue stood mostly destroyed by fire and strewn with wreckage that spread into the street, as smoke hung in the air. At another shop gutted by fire, a few elderly people and children picked through what was left after looting overnight. Cars were picked clean, their windows and tires gone.

The takeover in Bishkek followed similar building seizures in the country's impoverished south. The protests began even before the first round of parliamentary elections Feb. 27 and swelled after March 13 run-offs that the opposition said were seriously flawed.

The fractious opposition unified around calls for more democracy, an end to poverty and corruption, and a desire to oust Akayev, who had led Kyrgyzstan since 1990, before it gained independence in the Soviet collapse.

There was no sign the new leadership would change policy toward the West or Russia. Unlike the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, foreign policy has not been an issue.

Both the United States and Russia have military bases near Bishkek.

"All intergovernmental agreements will remain in full force and are in full effect," Bakiyev pledged.

Kyrgyzstan has been a conduit for drugs and a potential hotbed of Islamic extremism. There was no indication, however, that the opposition would be more amenable to Islamic fundamentalist influence than Akayev's government has been.


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Author`s name: Editorial Team