WASHINGTON – The United States would not confirm reports that Kyrgyzstan's president has fled the country following street demonstrations. The Bush administration did say the world expects a peaceful outcome.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said he could not say whether President Askar Akayev (search) had fled, as reported, and said the United States is not backing any opposition candidate.
"The future of Kyrgyzstan (search) should be decided by the people of Kyrgyzstan, consistent with the principles of peaceful change, of dialogue and respect for the rule of law," Ereli said.
The spokesman said he cannot confirm anything about the whereabouts of Akayev and his family.
Reports Thursday indicated that Akayev fled the capital after protesters stormed his headquarters, seized control of state television and overran government offices.
The Central Asia nation of 5 million was the scene of disputed parliamentary elections in February. The current unrest stemmed from dissatisfaction with that election. The parliament in power before the February elections was reconstituted, and on Thursday it elected former opposition lawmaker Ishenbai Kadyrbekov (search) as the country's interim president.
Earlier Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not believe that U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan would be adversely affected by the turmoil.
"I've been following the reports both in the press and in the intelligence reports," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him in said during a stop in Guatemala.
Asked specifically about reports that Akayev had fled the country, Rumsfeld replied: "The intelligence reports do not verify what you cited from press reports. I'm confident there will be no issue with respect to U.S. forces."
The United States, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are working together to monitor events in Kyrgyzstan, the State Department's Ereli said.
"We ... urge both government officials and protesters both to refrain from violence and to engage in constructive dialogue," he said.
"Our overall approach to this situation is to support the efforts of the Kyrgyz people to build a stable and prosperous democracy and to work with the other members of the international community to achieve a peaceful solution," the spokesman added.
The government's authority crumbled in the south over the past week, and on Thursday the opposition concentrated its forces on the capital. A rally that began with some 1,000 people picked up strength as unarmed demonstrators marched to the government compound.
Some carried yellow narcissus or stuck the flowers in breast pockets as a symbol of their peaceful ambitions — a message reinforced earlier in the day by a procession of children wearing pink and yellow ribbons around their heads, signifying two strands of the opposition.
A leading opponent of the Akayev regime, Felix Kulov, was freed from prison and praised the "revolution made by the people." Kulov said Akayev had signed a letter of resignation, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Opposition politicians pleaded in vain with the youths to stop smashing furniture and looting supplies they found in the presidential headquarters.
At U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., a spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Nick Balice, said, "We're obviously watching the situation closely," but he would not say more about the level of U.S. concern.
There are roughly 1,000 U.S. troops at Manas air base outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Marine Capt. Alison Salerno, a spokeswoman for Central Command, said there has been no request from the ousted president or anyone else in Kyrgyzstan for any assistance or action by U.S. forces at the air base.