BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan's new parliament held its first session as the country's undisputed legislature Wednesday, but it was marred by delay and protests, underscoring the country's political disorder since opposition protesters drove out President Askar Akayev (search) last week.
The session began a day after Akayev said in an interview from Russia that he would formally resign if given legal protections — the first sign the longtime leader might be willing to yield power. Interim leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev (search) has promised Akayev immunity and security, but the ousted president said he had no confidence in the offer.
The U.S. ambassador, meanwhile, met Wednesday with the new parliament speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev, whose importance appears to be growing. Akayev says Tekebayev is the only one he trusts to give the assurance he seeks.
Akayev fled Kyrgyzstan (search) when opposition supporters stormed government headquarters to protest disputed parliamentary elections in February and March. The opposition said the votes were rigged to fill the 75-member parliament with pro-Akayev lawmakers, who it feared would extend Akayev's term.
Kyrgyzstan became 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.
But the Kyrgyz uprising was accompanied by looting and gunfire, and after Akayev's ouster, the new parliament and the previous one became locked in a bitter dispute over which was the legitimate legislative body.
Felix Kulov, the former opposition leader who was appointed coordinator of law enforcement agencies, resigned on Wednesday, saying order had been restored to Kyrgyz streets.
"The situation has stabilized," Kulov told lawmakers, according to the parliamentary press service.
The streets may have calmed, but the country's emotionally charged politics were still apparent Wednesday, when four lawmakers walked out of the new parliament's session as an Akayev ally took his seat.
Late Tuesday, Akayev re-emerged publicly for the first time since his ouster, in Russia.
Asked by Russia's state-run Channel One TV whether he was prepared to step down, Akayev replied: "Of course, of course — if I am given the relevant guarantees and if it is in full accordance with the current legislation."
Speaking earlier to Ekho Moskvy radio, however, Akayev emphasized he was "the only elected and legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan" and said he would like to return to Kyrgyzstan "to help so that the newly elected president is legitimate."
Akayev accused his foes of plotting his overthrow for months. Bakiyev said the storming of the government headquarters was never planned, and he called for an official inquiry.
Tekebayev told The Associated Press that negotiations with Akayev "can only be on the transfer of power." Presidential elections have been set for June 26.
U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young pledged U.S. help after his meeting with Tekebayev.
"We are ready to work actively and in a friendly way with the parliament and others in the leadership in the cause of a stable, thriving and democratic Kyrgyzstan," Young said after the talks, speaking in Russian.
Kyrgyzstan, which hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases, has been a conduit for drugs and is a potential hotbed of Islamic extremism.