BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Opposition supporters and police formed joint patrols to keep order in a southern city of Kyrgyzstan where protesters have seized government offices, and President Askar Akayev (search) pledged Tuesday he would not impose a state of emergency despite demonstrations over alleged election fraud.
Akayev's statement — a day after opposition protesters took control of the southern city of Osh (search) and several other towns — appeared aimed at avoiding an escalation of tensions in the country, where memories of police killing six demonstrators in 2002 are still strong.
The capital of Bishkek (search) braced for demonstrations that did not materialize. Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, was peaceful, too, after the protesters allowed government workers back into offices the opposition had seized by force Monday in rallies calling for Akayev to resign.
The new parliament convened for the first time following the disputed elections that triggered the protests, and Akayev blamed the opposition for trying to destabilize Kyrgyzstan through violence.
"There are extremists and marginalized forces even in Western countries," Akayev told lawmakers. "Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan faces such destructive forces. Members of the opposition have made violent attempts to destabilize the situation using force to take over government institutions and block roads."
Despite speculation he would introduce a state of emergency, Akayev said, "I am fully committed to not taking such measures."
The opposition demonstrations in Osh and four other towns in Kyrgyzstan's impoverished south have increased pressure on Akayev, who has ruled this former Soviet republic in Central Asia for 15 years.
Earlier Tuesday, presidential spokesman Abdil Seghizbayev said the protests sweeping Kyrgyzstan were part of a "coup" designed by criminals.
The protests in Osh and Jalal-Abad were controlled by "criminal elements connected to the drug mafia ... struggling to gain power," Seghizbayev said.
Osh is a major transit point for drugs from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to Kazakhstan and Russia.
Seghizbayev called the protests "a putsch and a coup," the Interfax news agency reported.
"The role of extremist and terrorist organizations is increasing in the country's south," Seghizbayev told The Associated Press. "At the moment, the provocateurs' ex-candidates for parliament have fled to Bishkek. They no longer control the situation, the crowd is being controlled by criminal leaders."
Seghizbayev would not identify the alleged organizations and said protesters had seized weapons when storming a police station in Jalal-Abad.
Authoritarian leaders in Central Asia have often blamed any unrest on Muslim militants, but the protest organizers did not voice Islamic slogans and many of the demonstrators are motivated by bad economic conditions and high unemployment.
Ethnicity also may play a role, since about a third of the population in the south are Uzbeks.
Both the United States and Russia have bases in Kyrgyzstan. U.S. troops and other anti-terrorist coalition forces are based at the Manas airport near Bishkek for air operations in Afghanistan.
Southern Kyrgyzstan has been the scene of a series of incursions in recent years linked to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (search), a group that fought alongside the Taliban against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.
The opposition is angered over what it alleges was widespread manipulation of the Feb. 27 first-round parliamentary elections and the March 13 runoffs. They took control of Osh using clubs and Molotov cocktails to storm government buildings and forcing police and officials to flee.
Akayev, 60, is prohibited from seeking another term. The opposition has accused him of manipulating the parliamentary vote to gain a compliant legislature that would amend the constitution to allow a third term. Akayev has denied that.
Protesters in Osh allowed government workers back into their offices Tuesday. Police and opposition representatives launched joint patrols of the city Monday night, said police Col. Ermekbai Kochorov, adding that about half the police force had returned to work on his request.
A group of 50 young men with red ribbons on their arms were backing up police.
"Our common goal is security in the city," said their leader, Bazarbai Soltuyev.
About 100 opposition protesters wearing yellow ribbons gathered in Osh's central square Tuesday.
"We're sitting here for justice because the elections were not held fairly. We want Akayev to resign," said Madamin Turduyev, a 54-year-old protester.
The president sought to stem the protests Monday by ordering an investigation into the vote-rigging allegations, but the emboldened opposition vowed to press on to force him to leave office.
The Central Election Commission chief, Sulaiman Imanbayev, announced Tuesday what he called final results of the balloting. He said that results in 71 of the country's 75 electoral districts were legitimate — adding that only one district would require a repeat vote and that the three other districts would be disputed in court.
According to preliminary results, only six opposition candidates were elected to the 75-seat parliament.
The protests were launched after the first round of voting and swelled after subsequent runoffs that the opposition, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (search) and the United States said were seriously flawed.
In Bishkek, several busloads of Interior Ministry troops and riot police were deployed to guard the perimeter of the main square, next to the president's office and other government buildings. At least several hundred pro-Akayev protesters, most of them who appeared to be university students, were gathered there.
Russia has condemned the opposition protests, saying "extremist forces" must not be allowed to undermine the government.
Many observers have likened the events in Kyrgyzstan to massive opposition protests that swept former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine in the past two years, ousting unpopular governments. However, Kyrgyzstan's opposition forces have lacked unity and charismatic leadership.
Akayev was long regarded as a reform-minded leader, but in recent years he has shown increasing signs of cracking down. His reputation was tarnished in 2002 after police killed six people who were protesting the arrest of an opposition lawmaker.