Kyrgyz riot victims mourned
Thousands of grieving, angry citizens in Kyrgyzstan's capital city gathered Friday at the main square to mourn victims of this week's violent uprising, which has left at least 76 people dead.
Many of the mourners blamed Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled Bishkek, the capital, after protesters and opposition leaders overtook government buildings and the state TV headquarters earlier this week.
At least 76 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured during clashes with security forces in Bishkek and across the Asian country Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the most recent confirmations by the country's health officials.
"We grieve over our heroes — they are real heroes who have sacrificed their lives for the future of Kyrgyzstan," said Khatima Immamaliyeva, a 44-year-old office worker holding a red carnation and crying. "Bakiyev must bear responsibility for the deaths."
Another mourner, 26-year-old Azimbek Sariyev, was grieving the loss of his friend.
"I hope he hasn't died for nothing," Sariyev said. "We have ousted Bakiyev and won't allow the rulers to mock us."
Opposition leaders announced Thursday they have formed a new interim government that will rule until elections are held in six months.
But Bakiyev has refused to resign. He fled Bishkek for the south, where he is mustering support.
Many protesters were outraged at huge hikes in prices for electricity and gas heating that went into effect in January.
In the past two years, Bakiyev's government has clamped down on the news media, and opposition activists said they were routinely intimidated and targeted by politically motivated criminal investigations.
The interim defence minister said the armed forces have joined the opposition and will not be used to disperse protesters.
Despite the end of violent protests, safety remains a major concern. Freelance reporter Ben Judah told CBC-TV's News Now on Thursday that Bishkek had plunged into a "state of anarchy and confusion," with mobs roaming and looting across the city.
Journalists in Bishkek reported hearing sustained gunfire overnight Thursday. Health officials said 67 people were injured in clashes between looters and security forces.
Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who once backed Bakiyev and now leads the opposition interim government, visited one of the city's hospitals Friday and said she and her comrades would not negotiate with Bakiyev.
Bakiyev announced on a Russian radio station he would not resign.
"What has taken place is a veritable orgy carried out by armed groups and I do not believe this is a defeat for me," Bakiyev said.
He spoke from the southern Jalal-Abad region, where Bakiyev's popularity is said to remain high — raising concerns he might try to secure his survival by exploiting the split between the more urban north and the rural south.
Russia, U.S. have interests
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet country, is home to the U.S. military's Manas air base. Opposition members have in the past said they want to see it shut down.
Flights resumed from the base Friday after being suspended during the uprising, a U.S. military spokesperson confirmed.
Some 1,100 troops are stationed there, including contingents from Spain and France, in support of NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan also hosts a Russian military base.
Otunbayeva said there are no plans yet to review the lease agreement for the Manas base, which runs out in July. She said her government will meet U.S. diplomats for talks in Bishkek.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed Kyrgyzstan before signing an arms treaty in Prague on Thursday.
Michael McFaul, Obama's senior director for Russian affairs, emphasized that the U.S. did not view the conflict as any kind of proxy struggle between the U.S. and Russia.
In a sign that Russia may lend its support to the opposition, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Otunbayeva on Thursday. Any suggestion that Russia is backing the new leadership would add to the pressure on Bakiyev to step down.
With files from The Associated Press