Russia gives Kyrgyzstan £32m aid

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The Independent Online

Russia agreed yesterday to supply $50m (£32m) in aid and loans to Kyrgyzstan after the interim leadership of the Central Asian republic said state coffers were empty following the overthrow of the president.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the first senior official to contact ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan's provisional leadership after last week's uprising, offered money and fuel to help the impoverished nation fund its next harvest.

"The provisional government says the coffers are bare, that the old leadership stole the lot," Mr Putin said after several ministers in his government met the visiting Kyrgyz delegation. "We must support our friends."

Russia has moved quickly to establish relations with the interim leadership of Kyrgyzstan, which assumed power after an uprising on 7 April. At least 84 people were killed and 1,600 more injured when troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators.

Mr Putin rang interim leader Roza Otunbayeva to offer Russian assistance less than 24 hours after she dissolved parliament and said she was in charge of the poverty-stricken state.

The United States, which operates a military base on Kyrgyz soil to support Nato operations in Afghanistan, also sent Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake to Bishkek yesterday in a sign of the big power rivalries in the region.

Mr Blake, the most senior US official to visit Bishkek since the uprising, said he was "optimistic" about the steps taken by the new leadership. "The United States is prepared to help," Mr Blake said after meeting the interim leader.

Ms Otunbayeva called for Mr Bakiyev to be put on trial for his part in the deaths of at least 84 people during the uprising. A further 1,600 people were injured: "If we get our hands on Bakiyev, he will be put on trial," she said. Later, she backed off of that ultimatum, saying that talks could be possible under the right circumstances.

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