Kyrgyz leader may be willing to resign
Ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev surfaced in Russia after fleeing this Central Asian nation and said Tuesday he would resign if given legal protections — the first sign he is willing to yield power.
Akayev, who fled after protesters seized government headquarters last week, also accused his foes of plotting his overthrow for months. Interim leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev said the storming of the government headquarters was never planned, and he called for an official inquiry.
In an interview with Russia's state-run Channel One television, Akayev emphasized he is Kyrgyzstan's legitimate leader and suggested he would keep a hand in its fragile politics.
Speaking earlier to Ekho Mosvky radio, Akayev emphasized he is "the only elected and legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan" and stressed that his term ends in autumn.
He also said he wants to return to Kyrgyzstan, adding, "I have the desire to help so that the newly elected president is legitimate."
The comments suggested Akayev could resign to give legitimacy to a new leader, but also left the door open for more political maneuvering by a leader who was reviled by an increasing portion of the populace as his 15 years in power wore on.
Akayev said he does not have confidence in the statements from Bakiyev and law enforcement coordinator Felix Kulov offering him immunity and security, and he said he would return only if parliament offered him "personal safety guarantees."
Akayev called Bakiyev's interim government illegitimate and claimed opposition forces choreographed Thursday's takeover in a "anti-constitutional power grab."
"From the very beginning, the opposition planned to seize power, not just stage peaceful rallies," he said.
The upheaval followed opposition accusations that Akayev's government had manipulated parliamentary elections in February and March to give him a compliant legislature, possibly so that he could amend the constitution to stay in power for another term.
Akayev said the legislature elected this year was "the only legitimate authority." He said he would be willing to hold negotiations with its speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev.
Tekebayev told The Associated Press that negotiations with Akayev "can only be on the transfer of power" and must involve the whole nation.
Speaking to Ekho Moskvy, Akayev accused his opponents of unleashing rowdy gangs that roamed streets emptied of police Thursday, smashing store windows and picking shelves clean. He said Bishkek returned to "the Middle Ages."
In the Channel One interview, he claimed those who stormed his headquarters were paid.
Akayev said he left the building 30 minutes before the takeover, and that the last order he gave was "not to use weapons under any circumstances" — an attempt to portray himself as a peacemaker.
His comments came hours after Bakiyev pledged to crack down on corruption that plagued Kyrgyzstan under Akayev. He said the government must ensure the presidential vote is "clean, transparent and fair."
Bakiyev said the government of the impoverished nation of 5 million must stay away from politics and focus on the economy.
He also said Akayev caused his own downfall. "When the people are being fooled, underestimated and degraded, this is the finale you get," he said.
At the same time, Bakiyev — who was among thousands of demonstrators who marched through Bishkek before the seizure — announced an investigation into the storming of the government headquarters, seeking to distance himself from it and the looting that followed.
The violence frightened and angered many in Kyrgyzstan and marred the opposition victory.
"We have to know and people have to know why this happened, who is to blame," he said.
Also Tuesday, legislators from the previous parliament ended a struggle against their rivals elected in the disputed balloting. The decision by the old parliament's upper house to disband — a day after its lower house did the same — defers authority to the newly elected legislature.
The decision risked rekindling the anger of protesters who helped topple Akayev.
About 150 demonstrators gathered outside the legislature Tuesday while lawmakers met. They soon dispersed, but a smaller group later went to Bishkek's central square. "New Parliament — Go Away," read one banner.
"The election wasn't honest. Seats were bought and sold," said Marat Mukashev, 53, as he walked on a boulevard near the parliament. He said the new legislature "does not represent the people."
Bakiyev, who had urged the old parliament to disband, said disputed races will be reviewed by courts and electoral officials but that "we cannot dissolve the whole parliament."
That statement won support from Kuban Orozov, a 20-year-old student standing on a Bishkek street corner. "We don't need more chaos," he said. "Now we need to try to let democracy work and that means letting the courts decide."
Kyrgyzstan is the third former Soviet republic in the past 18 months — after Georgia and Ukraine — where the opposition was swept to power after mass protests against long-entrenched leaders. Strategically located, it hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases. It shares a border with China, has been a conduit for drugs and is a potential hotbed of Islamic extremism.