Kyrgyz parliament hears taped farewell statement of president

President Askar Akayev, who offered his resignation after fleeing Kyrgyzstan amid huge protests two weeks ago, said in a taped address shown Thursday that his nearly 15 years in power would someday be seen as a high point in the country's history.

The address, which Akayev recorded this week in Moscow after signing a resignation agreement, was aired at a parliament session. The legislature then began debating the resignation; some lawmakers have said they want Akayev to be impeached rather than allowed to step down.

At the end of the 18-minute address, Akayev was shown standing forlornly next to the Kyrgyz flag, holding up the resignation agreement. Then parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev, one of Akayev's most prominent opponents, was shown taking the document from Akayev and shaking hands with him.

"I am convinced that in the future the Akayev period will be recognized as a bright period in Kyrgyz history," Akayev said in the address. "I did all that I could, but let whoever comes next do more."

Akayev was regarded as the most liberal and reform-oriented of the ex-Soviet Central Asian countries' leaders. In his first years in power, Kyrgyzstan was widely referred to as an "island of democracy" in a region mostly characterized by authoritarian rule, but in recent years he showed increasing signs of cracking down on opposition.

In addition, allegations of widespread corruption against him and his family fueled opposition. Demonstrations broke out after this year's parliamentary elections that many alleged were manipulated to give him a compliant legislature, and the protests culminated in the March 24 storming of the presidential administration building.

Akayev said he had ordered police not to shoot the demonstrators and that he regarded this as the most important decision of his presidency.

"I am leaving you with a clean heart and spirit. Even a drop of blood is not worth power," Akayev said.

The parliament listened to the address quitely and there was no applause or other obvious reaction at its conclusion.

The resignation agreement was supposed to have been considered on Tuesday, but parliament was forced to adjourn without considering the matter when lawmakers failed to muster a quorum.

The delay only added to the confusion that has gripped this Central Asian nation since Akayev's ouster. Kyrgyz officials pushed hard to secure Akayev's resignation, seen as a significant step toward restoring political order and legitimizing the new leaders.

Some officials are angry that 60-year-old Akayev is being allowed to resign rather than face impeachment.

But Tekebayev, who led the delegation that secured Akayev's resignation, argued strongly against that, saying lawmakers secured his voluntary resignation in exchange for security and other guarantees.

Felix Kulov, a former opposition leader jailed for more than four years by Akayev on charges widely considered politically motivated, called for a speedy resolution.

"We need to move on," he said Wednesday.

Kulov, who was freed after Akayev's ouster, has said he intends to run for the presidency in elections set for June 26. The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed one of the corruption convictions against him. The court is expected to consider the other conviction Thursday. Kulov needs to be cleared in both cases to run.

Kyrgyzstan was the latest former Soviet republic to be upended by popular protests. Mass protests ushered the opposition into power in Ukraine last year and Georgia in 2003.

MARA D. BELLABY, Associated Press Writer

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