Kyrgyz President appoints hardliners to combat protests

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The Independent Online

Kyrgyzstan's Soviet-era President, Askar Akayev, has moved to strengthen his increasingly tenuous grip on power - in the face of unprecedented popular protests - by appointing a new hardline interior minister and general prosecutor.

Kyrgyzstan's Soviet-era President, Askar Akayev, has moved to strengthen his increasingly tenuous grip on power - in the face of unprecedented popular protests - by appointing a new hardline interior minister and general prosecutor.

Fearful that opposition demonstrations against his 15 years in power could expand into civil war and anarchy, Mr Akayev's new appointees immediately promised they would not flinch from getting tough with protesters who have all but seized power in the south.

The crisis engulfing the former Soviet republic was sparked by parliamentary elections that took place last month and saw pro-Akayev supporters win all but six of 75 seats. The opposition claims the elections were not free and fair and wants them to be rerun. It also wants Mr Akayev, whom it accuses of becoming increasingly authoritarian, to step down.

Mr Akayev's sudden decision to replace the interior minister and prosecutor came as riot police broke up an opposition demonstration in the capital, Bishkek. Witnesses said police moved in before the demonstration could begin. Some protesters were allegedly beaten before being bundled into vans.

Keneshbek Dushebayev, the new Interior Minister, said police would not allow opposition protesters to cause havoc in Bishkek, in the north of the countryas they have done in the south. He said: "Our primary task is to restore constitutional order in all regions, but strictly in accordance with the constitution. The law gives us every right to take action, including using physical force, special means and firearms."

Murat Sutalinov, the new general prosecutor, also adopted a tough line, saying that he would charge 500 protesters with causing unrest.

Though Mr Akayev is keen to show he will no longer tolerate such a brazen challenge to his power, it is clear that he wants to be seen to be acting legitimately. He has therefore asked the opposition to appoint an overall leader with whom he can talk and has promised to send his Prime Minister, Nikolai Tanaev, to the south of the country for negotiations.

But the opposition, which is fractured and lacks central leadership, appears defiant and is said to be trying to send protesters by bus to Bishkek for larger demonstrations.

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