Deposed Kyrgyz leader says he is still president

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The ousted leader of Kyrgyzstan said Wednesday from exile in Belarus that he is still president, desperately clinging onto power despite having lost most of his credibility and support in the Central Asian country.

Kurman Bakiyev's renewed defiance may have more to do with politics in Belarus, his host country, than with any realistic expectations of reclaiming the presidency.

Bakiyev, who was deposed in an April 7 uprising that left 85 people dead, fled last week to neighboring Kazakhstan and arrived in the Belarusian capital earlier this week.

In his first comments from exile, Bakiyev told reporters Wednesday that he is still "the legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan" and described the interim government controlling the Kyrgyz capital as "executors of a foreign will."

"Kyrgyzstan will be nobody's colony," he said. Many observers have suggested that Russia supported or even aided Bakiyev's ouster, angered by his reneging on a promise last year to evict a U.S. air base.

Interim authorities in Kyrgyzstan claim Bakiyev signed a letter of resignation before leaving the country. The United States and Russia helped broker the agreement for his departure.

"Aware of my responsibility for the future of the people and the preservation of the integrity of the state ... I herewith submit my resignation," the letter shown to journalists by interim leader Roza Otunbayeva said.

But on Wednesday, Bakiyev retracted any resignation. "I don't recognize my resignation. Only death will stop me," he said.

Bakiyev said he was "ready to bear legal responsibility," but it was unclear if he meant he would answer for the violence in Bishkek, as the new authorities are urging. The provisional authorities have said they expect Belarus to protect Bakiyev until extradition proceedings can be initiated.

"Bakiyev is taking a very destructive position," Temir Sariyev, a deputy leader of the interim coalition, told The Associated Press in Bishkek.

"There is no trust in this person — he rejects even his own signature," Sariyev said, referring to the apparent resignation letter.

Bakiyev called on the world to refrain from recognizing the provisional government, which has announced parliamentary and presidential elections in six months and the drafting of a new constitution.

Bakiyev's supporters at his stronghold in southern Kyrgyzstan also refused to admit defeat, and on Wednesday clashed with hundreds of activists loyal to the interim government.

Witnesses told The Associated Press that scuffles broke out on Jalal-Abad's central square. The town, near a village that hosts the presidential compound, is one of the few remaining places where support for the toppled leader is still visible.

The shaky interim coalition is struggling to restore stability, and developments are being watched with concern by the United States and Russia, which also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Bakiyev's appearance Wednesday was seen as orchestrated by Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who sent his own presidential security detail to accompany his deposed counterpart.

"Lukashenko was frightened that Washington and the Kremlin reached agreement on the situation in Kyrgyzstan and could repeat the scenario in Belarus," said political analyst Svetlana Kalinkina. "Lukashenko is inciting Bakiyev to battle to show the West and Russia the danger of changing a dictatorial government."

Moscow has grown increasingly annoyed with Lukashenko in recent years, while the West has refused to improve relations significantly until he agrees to some democratic reforms.

Playing host to Bakiyev at his residence later Wednesday, Lukashenko urged him to run in Kyrgyzstan's planned presidential election. "You can always count on our support," the Belarusian president said.


Associated Press Writer Leila Saralyeva contributed to this report from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.