Belarus says ousted Kyrgyz president in Minsk

Published April 20, 2010

| Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Kyrgyzstan's ousted president was in exile in Belarus on Tuesday, as the interim authorities controlling the Kyrgyz capital warned he would be imprisoned if he tried to return to the Central Asian country.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek after an April 7 protest rally that exploded into gunfire and left 85 people dead, had taken refuge last week in neighboring Kazakhstan, then left Monday for an unannounced destination.

Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday that "Bakiyev and his family are in Minsk under the protection of our state and me personally."

His presence, however, could exacerbate Belarus' tensions with both the West and neighboring Russia, as well as with Kyrgyzstan itself.

"We have a mutual obligation to extradite criminals," said Edil Baisalov, chief of staff for interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva. "We expect Belarus to provide protection and security for Bakiyev until he faces justice in Kyrgyzstan for his bloody crimes."

He accused Bakiyev of being responsible for the Bishkek bloodshed.

The shaky interim coalition, which is set to run the former Soviet country for six months, is struggling to restore stability. The efforts are being watched with concern by Russia and the United States, both of which have military bases there.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday told Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to take measures to increase security at Russian facilities in Kyrgyzstan and to protect Russian citizens there. A Kremlin statement announcing the order did not specify what the measures might be.

Deadly clashes have broken out between mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Meskhetian Turks in a village on the outskirts of the capital, while Bakiyev's supporters in his southern stronghold have managed to maintain control of the region by imposing their own interim governor.

The mood was tense Tuesday in Mayevka village, outside Bishkek, a day after hundreds of young ethnic Kyrgyz men armed with sticks and metal bars beat residents while burning houses and cars. At least five people were killed, the Interior Ministry said.

The rampage appears to have been motivated by an attempt by squatters to seize arable land. Mayevka is populated largely by Meskhetian Turks, descendants of an ethnic group deported from Soviet Georgia in 1944.

"When we learned that there was a claim out on our field, we urgently evacuated women and children from the village," said Alik Aliyev, an ethnic Meskhetian Turk inhabitant of Mayevka. "Toward the evening, around 1,000 young Kyrgyz men, some of them drunk, came down our street and started to smash windows of homes and cars."

Aliyev said local residents were forced to flee under attack from the squatters, but later returned to find their homes had been looted and set on fire, and that their cattle had been stolen.

Hundreds of squatters assembled for a rally Tuesday morning a short distance from Mayevka, demanding the release of jailed rioters and that they be allocated land.

About 500 police officers armed with shields and batons blocked the entrance into the village, leading to an hourlong standoff, after which the squatters dispersed.

Meanwhile, Bakiyev supporters in the southern town of Jalal-Abad have been occupying government offices for several days, and have imposed their candidate as head of the regional police department.

Under pressure from some 20 Bakiyev supporters — mostly elderly women — officers agreed Tuesday to work under their appointee.

Lukashenko's move to give refuge to Bakiyev appeared to be an open challenge to Russia, which he accuses of trying to absorb or crush his country. Many observers suggest that Russia supported or even aided Bakiyev's ouster, angered by his reneging on a promise last year to evict the U.S. base.

"Lukashenko received Bakiyev in order to show the Kremlin 'Look, I'm totally not afraid of you and will do what I want,'" said independent Belarusian analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.

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Associated Press Writer Leila Saralayeva in Bishkek contributed to this report.

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