President Askar Akayev (search) on Monday ordered the Central Election Commission and Supreme Court to investigate alleged violations in the recent parliamentary vote that have triggered weeks of opposition protests in Kyrgyzstan (search), his office said.
More than 17,000 people rallied Monday against Akayev, calling for his resignation, and some of them took over government buildings in at least four cities.
Akayev ordered the commission and court "to pay particular attention to those districts where election results provoked extreme public reaction ... and tell people openly who is right and who is wrong," his office said.
"The (election) disputes need to be solved fully and fairly," said Akayev, who added that the results of the investigations must be made public "so that all speculations and accusations of arbitrariness will be removed."
The unrest began early this month to protest alleged election breaches in the Feb. 27 parliamentary polls. It intensified after the subsequent March 13 run-offs that the opposition, European countries and the United States said were seriously flawed, a charge denied by the government.
The opposition has charged that Akayev, who is prohibited from seeking another term, planned to manipulate the parliamentary vote to gain a compliant legislature that would amend the constitution to allow a third term. The 60-year-old leader has denied wanting another term.
Russia's Foreign Ministry condemned the protests, saying "extremist forces must not be allowed to use political instability to create a threat to the democratic foundations of Kyrgyz statehood."
It also rebuked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for its critical evaluation of the Kyrgyz elections, urging it to "be more responsible in formulating their conclusions to prevent destructive elements from using these assessments to justify their lawless actions."
Monday's biggest demonstration drew about 15,000 people to the southern city of Jalal-Abad, a local government spokesman said. There were no reports of violence a day after demonstrators there burned down much of the police headquarters, freed 70 detained protesters and occupied the governor's office.
Protesters dumped stones on the runway at Jalal-Abad (search) airport, making it difficult for security forces to rush in reinforcements to quell the protests, which some analysts have compared to peaceful revolutions that swept two other former Soviet republics — Georgia and Ukraine — in the past two years.
Akayev has led this mainly Muslim nation for 15 years.
In Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, about 1,000 protesters — armed with clubs and flammable liquid and chanting "Akayev go!" — took control of the governor's building. Activists first stormed the building Friday, were ousted by security forces Saturday but retook it Monday.
The protesters then grew in number to about 2,000 and overran the regional police and security stations in the city, about 186 miles south of the capital, Bishkek. Those buildings had been largely evacuated by officials who were anticipating the takeovers.
Protesters gathered on the city's main square and burned a large picture of Akayev.
"This is a new day in our history," said Omurbek Tekebayev, an official of the opposition, which he said would create alternative government bodies throughout the country.
Tekebayev said the deputy regional police chief had joined the opposition and would be in charge of police under the region's new government.
Another opposition member, Anvar Artykov, told the crowd that "power in Osh has been taken over by people! ... I congratulate you on our victory and urge you to maintain order."
The crowd began to disperse in the afternoon.
The opposition also was occupying government buildings in four other cities and towns, Interior Ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangarayev said. Hundreds rallied Monday in at least two other towns in this mountainous nation of 5 million people, he said.
Protesters in the southern town of Toktogul held captive for a third day a district governor and a chief district prosecutor, both of whom are accused of colluding with Akayev's government, police said.
Akayev aide Abdil Seghizbayev said security forces would not take action against the protesters but said talks would only be possible after order is restored.
"Neither authorities nor opposition leaders can control the crowd right now," he said. "If an (opposition) leader emerges who can control the protesters, the government will be ready to talk to him."
Kyrgyzstan's opposition parties have long been fractured and have resisted moves to unite them. With pressure on Akayev to step down, rival opposition leaders are positioning themselves to be seen as a possible successor.
Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the Ata-Jurt Movement, one of the main opposition groups, and a former foreign minister, ruled out any talks with Akayev.
"We have one aim only: to oust this government ... There is no need for talks anymore," she said.
Otunbayeva said the opposition would guarantee the security of Akayev and other government officials if they go, "like it was in Georgia and Ukraine."
But another opposition leader, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, said talks would be possible if Akayev attended.
Akayev was long regarded as the most reform-minded leader in ex-Soviet Central Asia and the country won praise for its comparative openness.
But he has recently shown increasing signs of cracking down. In 2002, his reputation was tarnished after police killed six people protesting the arrest of an opposition lawmaker.
Also Monday, Ukraine recalled its ambassador for allegedly exceeding his responsibilities, the Foreign Ministry said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Dmytro Svystkov said Oleksandr Baldynyuk, Kiev's temporary representative in Kyrgyzstan, was summoned home because of a letter he wrote supporting the regional governor of Jalal-Abad. Baldynyuk's position "contradicted the position of official Ukraine," Svystkov said.