Old, New Parliaments Squabble in Kyrgyzstan

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Interim leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev (search) recognized Kyrgyzstan's new parliament as legitimate Monday even though it was chosen in disputed elections, a move designed to end a struggle between the rival legislatures that has threatened to bring more unrest after last week's ouster of the president.

Bakiyev's statement of support for the new parliament — elected in the allegedly fraudulent balloting this year that fueled the protests leading to President Askar Akayev's (search) downfall — came after its members boosted his authority by naming him prime minister.

The old parliament had been reinstated Thursday by the Supreme Court, hours after Akayev was driven out, but the new parliament insisted on its legitimacy.

While the new parliament on Monday named Bakiyev prime minister, the other body had appointed him acting prime minister.

Moving to assert his authority and put an end to the political chaos that has persisted in the wake of the opposition seizure of Akayev's offices, Bakiyev also suggested that the ousted president should formally resign.

"President Akayev has kept silent until now; I believe the first president should address his people and announce his decision," Bakiyev said. Akayev had been in power since 1990, when the Central Asian nation of 5 million was still a Soviet republic.

Akayev was holding talks with members of one of the two parliaments and with Bakiyev, according to Azimbek Beknazarov, the acting prosecutor-general. He said Akayev was "trying to influence the situation" from neighboring Kazakhstan (search) but that both the parliament and Bakiyev were trying to persuade him to resign.

The Kremlin had said Saturday that Akayev was in Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on his whereabouts Monday.

The elections that brought the new parliament to power were widely alleged to have been manipulated, and the anti-government protests grew after that balloting. Both parliaments have been meeting in the same building. Increasingly, the tide of support among officials has been swinging toward the new parliament.

Earlier Monday, the lower chamber of the old parliament suspended its work in an apparent effort to try to resolve the dispute, but the body's upper house resisted.

"In accordance with the constitution, the [previous] two-chamber parliament should finish its work," Bakiyev said. "The old parliament needs to think about its voters' interests and not about its own."

Bakiyev's recognition of the new parliament could help bring political order, but it also risked fueling the anger of opposition protesters who helped bring down Akayev.

Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, speaker of the old parliament's lower house, said Monday it was suspending its activity "in the interests of the people, and so that the acting president will not face two rival legislatures."

He called on the upper chamber to do the same. But that body showed little indication at the start of its session Monday that it intended to cede power, with lawmaker after lawmaker taking the podium to defend their legitimacy, saying they had the people's support.

"We are the legitimate parliament," lawmaker Rustam Mananov told The Associated Press. He said the lower chamber "betrayed the people" by suspending its work.

A crowd of demonstrators opposed to the new parliament swelled outside the building's doors Monday, shouting at a line of Interior Ministry troops in helmets and volunteer security troops. As the numbers grew to several hundred, the volunteer security troops said they had switched to the people's side and pledged not to let Bakiyev or any of the newly elected lawmakers enter.

"Until yesterday, Bakiyev was the leader of a nation [but] yesterday a counterrevolution happened," said protester Adylbek Kasimov, referring to the Central Election Commission's announcement recognizing the new parliament. "The new parliament is illegitimate. The dirty election is on their conscience."

After being named speaker of the new parliament, Omurbek Tekebayev said he would set up a joint commission with Bakiyev's administration "to get out of the situation without conflict."

In fast-moving events unleashed Thursday when protesters overran the presidential offices, the country's Supreme Court nullified this year's parliamentary elections, and the old parliament met to appoint interim leaders. But the bid by the new parliament — made up of wealthy businessmen — has thrust Kyrgyzstan's new leadership into turmoil.

It threatens to distract their efforts to fight poverty, corruption and repression — the opposition's main complaints against Akayev. Opposition-led protests began swelling in early March after the first round of the parliamentary elections, which the opposition said were manipulated by Akayev's regime to give him a compliant legislature.

Akayev, 60, had led Kyrgyzstan since 1990, before it gained independence in the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was long considered the most democratic leader among the five ex-Soviet Central Asian nations but was accused of increasingly cracking down on dissent in recent years.

Kyrgyzstan hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases and has aimed to cultivate good relations with both countries.