Thousands head for Bishkek against coup
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyzstan's ousted interior minister led thousands of demonstrators toward the capital on Saturday to protest against the coup that overthrew President Askar Akayev, warning there was a risk of civil war.
The new leadership, which swept to power in the lighting coup Thursday after mass protests, declared it was firmly in control of the mountainous ex-Soviet state.
Ignoring the exiled Akayev's refusal to resign, parliament set June 26 for a new presidential election in the central Asian nation. Bakiev said he would run in the election.
The new leader, who has criticized Akayev for fleeing the country when it was in crisis, said he had been as surprised as anybody by the speed of events.
"It didn't enter my head that this could happen. God forbid that anyone should come to power in this way. I am not a supporter of such things, but what happened."
He vowed to act against the protesters coming to Bishkek.
"They are provocateurs who do not want to see stability in Bishkek. But our security agents are working on this. We will soon deal with the agitators."
PROTESTERS SET OFF
About 3,000 people have set off from Akayev's home region of Chym Korgon, some 90 km (55 miles) outside the capital.
"The country is virtually split and everything is in place for a civil war."
But there was confusion over the aims of the protesters.
Some had posters saying "No to the coup!" and "The people of Kyrgyzstan are one nation!." Other placards read: "We support general Kulov," referring to opposition leader Felix Kulov.
One man, Rustam Ibraimov, 24, said: "We do not support President Akayev, but the change of power should have been carried out according to the law."
Kulov, put in charge of security just days after crowds freed him from jail, insisted the country was now orderly.
"The situation is fully under control. We do not need a curfew," said Kulov, who was prominent in opposing Akayev.
Bishkek was quiet Saturday with little sign of the violence, looting and destruction that swept the city after Thursday's mass protests brought a sudden end to Akayev's 14-year rule of the mainly Muslim country of 5 million.
But there was also little left of the early enthusiasm which had first greeted the collapse of the old government.
"I fear it will be worse because there is instability," said Alexander Shirbina, a 57-year-old photographer. "Under Akayev things were not great. But they should have waited until an election to get rid of him. A coup is no good."
Aslan, a shepherd in the village of Chym Korgon said: "I myself am not fond of Akayev but I wanted everything to be done in a democratic way. What we see now in Bishkek is pure lawlessness and is far removed from the constitution."
Crucially for the opposition, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have given his blessing to the new leadership.
"He was very interested in what sort of help is needed. We are very grateful to the Russian leadership," Bakiev told parliament after speaking to Putin by phone Friday.
Putin had earlier offered sanctuary to Akayev. He is widely reported to have already arrived in Russia.
Bakiev said Kyrgyzstan, where most people survive on a dollar a day, desperately needed foreign assistance.
"We need help from the outside. Soon, we will have nothing to feed the people with," he said, adding that he hoped Russia would help with fuel supplies.
The overthrow of Akayev, a relative liberal in a region of mainly autocratic leaders, followed weeks of protest throughout the country, especially in the poorer south.
The new leadership is made up of a loosely united opposition that includes many former government officials who have been at odds with one another in the past.
One of the immediate challenges is how to operate in a country with two sets of members of parliament -- from an outgoing assembly, which says it is still in charge, and a second, more strongly pro-Akayev group elected in polls in February and March which the opposition said were fraudulent.
Kyrgyzstan, bordering China, lies in an energy-rich region where Washington and Moscow vie for influence. Each has a military base outside Bishkek.