Kyrgyzstan arrests opposition leader, troops disperse protesters with tear gas, stun grenades

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Kyrgyz forces fired live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades into the air to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters Thursday and arrested their leader, raising fears of new instability in the turbulent Central Asian nation.

Government spokesman Farid Niyazov said some of the 27 protesters arrested are being investigated on suspicion of "attempting to seize power." There was no immediate word on casualties.

The confrontation demonstrated that tensions in Kyrgyzstan remain high four months after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted and fled the country after a bloody revolt over alleged corruption.

Breaking up Thursday's protest could bolster the interim government's confidence that it can fend off similar uprisings, despite ethnic rampages in June in which hundreds of minority Uzbeks were killed.

The United States and Russia both have military bases in the strategically located country and are watching developments closely.

Kyrgyzstan security chief Keneshbek Duyshebayev said authorities arrested Urmat Baryktabasov, who leads the obscure Mekin-Tuu political party that is financed by Bakiyev's family.

Thursday's unrest began in the capital, Bishkek, when about 1,000 supporters of Baryktabasov gathered outside parliament to denounce the interim leadership and insist the country is not ready for parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Supporters addressing the crowd also called for Baryktabasov to be appointed prime minister — a demand derided by President Roza Otunbayeva.

"We demonstrated willingness to engage in dialogue with the leaders of this demonstration, although they could not even produce a basic list of demands," Otunbayeva said.

Baryktabasov had tried to run against Bakiyev in the 2005 presidential elections, but was denied registration and fled the country. He returned after Bakiyev's ouster.

While the rally was taking place in Bishkek, hundreds of Baryktabasov supporters traveling to the capital were stopped by police and troops 12 miles (20 kilometers) away. Many demonstrators then left Bishkek to try to join them, but were also stopped.

Baryktabasov's supporters angrily demanded that authorities let them and their leader into the capital.

"He should be president — he is an honest Kyrgyz man," said protester Erlan Churayev.

But the soldiers and police, backed by armored vehicles, fired live rounds into the air and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Fleeing protesters were chased into nearby fields by riot police with dogs, Otunbayeva said.

Baryktabasov, whom police had barred from entering the capital, was not among the crowd but was arrested later after a high-speed police chase.

The impoverished, mountainous nation hosts the U.S. Manas air base, a key support center for the fight against the Taliban that is used by most troops entering or leaving Afghanistan.