New Kyrgyz leaders struggle to stop rioting and looting

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The Independent Online

Kyrgyzstan was braced for a fresh round of violence and looting last night, with the newly declared government warning people there was no police force to protect them in the wake of the "tulip revolution" that ousted Askar Akayev as president.

Kyrgyzstan was braced for a fresh round of violence and looting last night, with the newly declared government warning people there was no police force to protect them in the wake of the "tulip revolution" that ousted Askar Akayev as president.

Former opposition leaders struggled to enforce a blanket curfew in the capital, Bishkek, as thousands of people barricaded themselves into their homes for fear of looting.

"The city looks as if it has gone mad," said Felix Kulov, a prominent opposition leader released from prison during Thursday's turmoil and appointed co-ordinator of law-enforcement agencies. "This is not a revolution. These are violent robbers," Mr Kulov said.

Hospital officials said two people had been killed and 360 wounded in the violence, and 173 were still in hospital.

After weeks of intensifying protests in the south, propelled by widespread anger over disputed elections, events moved at lightning speed on Thursday, with crowds taking over government buildings, prompting the sudden flight of Mr Akayev.

The clearest sign of a new order came when the opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was a central figure in the protests, emerged from the parliament building yesterday and said he had been named Kyrgyzstan's acting Prime Minister and President. "Freedom has finally come to us," Mr Bakiyev told a crowd in the central square.

He pledged fresh elections in June to overrule the results of the disputed poll. His appointment as acting Prime Minister, and under the constitution acting President, was endorsed in a late-night session by a newly restored parliament of lawmakers who held seats before the elections.

The new leadership got a boost from Vladimir Putin, who lamented the violence and looting in Kyrgyzstan but said he would work with the new government. "It's unfortunate that yet again in the post-Soviet space, political problems in a country are resolved illegally and are accompanied by pogroms and human victims."

Russia's President urged the new leadership to restore order quickly, and also praised it for having helped develop bilateral ties during their earlier work in the government.

The US State Department said the ousted president had left the country and the Bush administration would work jointly with Russia to promote a "sense of order" there. A spokesman said the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe was in the lead in trying to assist the Kyrgyz people to work through the political transition.

Mr Akayev is reported to be in either Kazakhstan or Russia. Russian news agencies carried a statement purportedly from him that denounced the uprising as a coup and insisting he had not resigned.

Kyrgyzstan became the third former Soviet republic in the past 18 months to see long-entrenched leaders accused of corruption toppled by popular protests. The events in Bishkek have had an impact through the region, with dictatorial leaders in the other four of the five "stans" ­ Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan ­ expected to clamp down on opposition.

Looters fought pitched battles early yesterday with security guards at stores linked to Mr Akayev's sons. Elsewhere people smashed windows and flooded into stores before being beaten by the owners. Standing outside what was left of the Silkway department store, a middle-aged man shook his head. "This is anarchy," he said.

When day broke, the normally sedate capital was reminiscent of a battlefield. Broken glass, paper and rubble littered the streets and clouds of smoke billowed from a supermarket to the west of the White House, which protesters had stormed so memorably the day before.

Some semblance of normal life had, however, resumed, with people heading back to work at their offices and buses running as opposition leaders struggled to get the country back to normal. But many remained in shock.

Sergei, 31, stood outside the Silkway shopping centre. His brother had owned a mobile phone store inside that had disappeared overnight. "We lost everything. So much to gain but so much to lose," he said.

By nightfall the streets were again filled by a makeshift security legion. Many members of Mr Akayev's armed forces appeared on the streets in uniform, including a man who was a colonel. "We will not let violent people kill our brothers and sisters," he said.

As the evening grew darker and rain fell for the first time in a week, the mood was tense. Many wore coloured arm bands to show support for the opposition for fear that they would otherwise become targets.