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Ousted Kyrgyz president offered 'safe passage'
Sat, Apr 10, 2010
AFP

BISHKEK - Kyrgyzstan's interim leader has offered president Kurmanbek Bakiyev safe passage out of the strategic Central Asia nation, but only if he stands down after the bloody uprising that toppled him.

Bakiyev, however, remained defiant, telling AFP in an interview Friday that he would not resign and accusing the opposition that ousted him of having blood on their hands over this week's uprising that killed at least 75 people.

In another development, US officials said Friday the military has suspended troop flights out of its base in Kyrgyzstan and will instead transport forces to and from Afghanistan via Kuwait.

"Bakiyev still has a chance to leave the country," interim leader Roza Otunbayeva told reporters in the capital Bishkek, during an official day of mourning for the scores of people who died.

But the former foreign minister warned: "We will only guarantee his personal safety if he resigns."

She also said that the new government has launched an investigation into the conduct of the security forces. "It is important now to establish justice," she said.

"I was at the hospital today where there are many in critical condition and others wounded," Otunbayeva added. "They (the security forces) must bear responsibility."

Bakiyev said earlier on Friday he had no intention of resigning, as he blamed the former Soviet republic's new self-proclaimed leadership for this week's bloodshed. Related article: Revolution turns against Bakiyev

Speaking with AFP in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad, Bakiyev insisted he did not give any order for security forces to open fire on protesters in Bishkek, where at least 76 people died.

"I am not the one with blood on my hands," he said.

Mourners in Bishkek's main square prayed and laid a sea of flowers as part of an official day of mourning for the dead. More than 1,500 are also believed to have been injured in the violence.

"Those people who organised armed men to storm the White House have blood on their hands. It's the opposition whose hands are bloody," Bakiyev, 60, told AFP at a house in Jalalabad where he has taken refuge.

Neither Russia nor the United States -- both of which maintain military facilities in the strategic Central Asian republic -- played any role in the upheaval, he added.

He stressed that he had no intention of leaving Kyrgyzstan, or of conceding his ouster by resigning, but added that he was ready to negotiate with the new leadership.

Otunbayeva, who suspects Bakiyev of trying to restore his five-year grip on power, told journalists in Bishkek earlier on Friday that a traditional mass rally was planned for Saturday in Jalalabad.

"We will listen to what Mr Bakiyev's supporters have to say and we will then decide what to do," she said.

The new administration meanwhile froze the national banking system on Friday, saying Bakiyev had emptied the state's coffers before fleeing and that they feared he would try to send money abroad.

The state now had only 986 million Kyrgyz soms (16 million euros, 22 million dollars), said Edil Baisalov, Otunbayeva's new chief of staff.

He also alleged that the ousted leader's son Janysh Bakiyev gave the order for security forces to shoot on Wednesday and there was "no doubt" that president Bakiyev gave the nod.

In the capital, where gunfire was heard Thursday night and the interim interior minister ordered looters to be shot on sight, the ransacked government headquarters and presidency remained locked up on Friday.

Burnt-out cars and vans used as battering rams to storm official buildings were meanwhile removed.

The new rulers have announced plans for presidential elections in six months and the disbanding of parliament, with Otunbayeva saying a US airbase vital for sending supplies to Afghanistan would remain open.

But US commanders at the Manas air base decided late Friday "to temporarily divert military passenger transport flights," Major John Redfield, a spokesman for US Central Command, said in an email.

Decisions on continuing other military flights "will be made on a case-by-case basis," he said.

The suspension came after the Americans spotted armored vehicles on the civilian side of the airport, a defense official told AFP in Washington.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said details were still unclear and there was no sign of tensions with the civilian authorities at Manas, a crucial hub for the NATO-led war in Afghanistan.

The suspension of troop flights -- which were diverted to a US base in Kuwait -- would remain in effect for at least 72 hours, the official said, but aerial tanker aircraft were continuing to use the runway.

The US embassy in Bishkek however closed its doors to the public.

Russia, still the key player in the former Soviet republic, and the European Union have vowed to support Kyrgyzstan's interim government. Both the EU and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are sending envoys to help.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has been plagued by corruption and chronic instability, with former communist functionary Bakiyev coming to power in the so-called "Tulip Revolution" of 2005.

This week's uprising was the culmination of growing opposition anger fuelled by widespread fraud and irregularities in last year's presidential polls.

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