New Kyrgyzstan leader appoints key ministers

Opposition leaders who seized power in Kyrgyzstan Thursday are struggling to restore order in the former Soviet republic.

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader appointed a number of key cabinet ministers on Friday as opposition leaders struggled to quash looting and restore order in the former Soviet republic.

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev emerged from a late-night meeting of lawmakers and announced he had been appointed "acting prime minister and acting president."

"Parliament today appointed me prime minister and gave me the functions of president," he told supporters, adding he would hold free and fair elections soon.

However, ousted President Askar Akayev denied reports he had resigned, denouncing what he called an "unconstitutional coup d'etat."

Widespread looting broke out in the capital, Bishkek, Thursday after demonstrators sacked the presidential palace and parliament. Akayev fled with his family, possibly to neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Opposition politicians allege he manipulated the Feb. 27 parliamentary vote in order to get a legislature that would amend the constitution to allow him to serve another term.

In a statement distributed to media on Friday, Akayev said he left the country to avoid bloodshed.

"My current stay outside the country is temporary. Rumours of my resignation are deliberate, malicious lies," ITAR-Tass has quoted Akayev as saying.

However, Bakiyev, whose appointment as interim leader was endorsed by lawmakers who formed parliament prior to the disputed election, moved ahead with forming a new government.

He chose a number of prominent opposition figures as acting ministers of foreign, defence, finance and judicial departments.

Looters roamed Bishkek through the night, targeting shopping malls and businesses owned by Akayev and his family.

Olga Wong says looters poured through the doors of her parents' fine tea shop in an upscale Bishkek shopping mall. She hustled her 60-year-old parents out the door to safety before the store was ransacked and burned.

At least one person was shot and killed in the overnight looting and more than 30 police officers were injured.

Putin offers asylum

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking on Friday on a visit to Armenia, said Akayev could go to Russia if he wanted.

Moscow is willing to work with Kyrgyzstan's new goverment, said Putin, who has seen the leaders of three former Soviet republics ousted in the past 18 months.

Opposition leaders deny ordering or encouraging the looting and are pleading for calm.

Newly appointed Interior Minister Felix Kulov, who said the city had gone "mad," took to the airwaves Friday, ordering police – many of whom took off their uniforms and went home Thursday – back on the job. He threatened to fire any officer who didn't.