Tumult in Kyrgyzstan as opposition claims power

Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has reportedly fled the capital as opposition leaders announced on a broadcast that they had formed a new acting government.

Police fire on protesters and at least 40 die in rioting

An unidentified man fires an automatic weapon during protests in Bishkek on Wednesday. ((Azamat Imanaliyev/Associated Press))

Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has reportedly fled the capital as opposition leaders announced on a broadcast that they had formed a new acting government.

The reports come after police opened fire on protesters storming government buildings in the capital of Bishkek, killing dozens as demonstrators took control of the state TV building and looted it. 

"We have reached an agreement that the government will resign. That has not been signed on paper yet," Galina Skripkina, a senior official in the opposition Social-Democratic Party and member of parliament, told Reuters.

Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva told a Russian news agency that the "opposition is in full control of power."

An Associated Press reporter also saw opposition leader Keneshbek Duishebayev sitting in the office of the chief of the National Security Agency.

Duishebayev told The Associated Press that "we have created units to restore order" on the streets.

Meanwhile, Bakiyev had reportedly fled on his presidential plane to the southern  city of Osh.

Hours after seizing Kyrgyzstan's state television headquarters Wednesday, the country's opposition leaders announced on a broadcast that they have formed a new acting government.

Temir Sariyev, an opposition party leader, told The Associated Press that a coalition of politicians has agreed on a new prime minister as well as an interior minister and security chief.

"The security service and the Interior Ministry ... all of them are already under the management of new people," Rosa Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who the opposition leaders said would head the interim government, told the Russian-language Mir TV channel.

Chaos in streets

During the day's fracas, thousands of protesters in the capital raided the main government building and set fire to the state prosecutor's office.

Police initially used rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas and concussion grenades to try to keep the crowds at bay. The protesters, mostly young men dressed in black, chased after officers, attacked them and seized their guns, trucks and armoured vehicles. Several young demonstrators fired assault rifles into the air from the square in front of the building.

Police eventually fired live rounds to disperse protesters.

There are conflicting reports of the number of people killed in Wednesday's riots. Opposition leaders said about 100 people were killed, while officials from the government's Health Ministry have confirmed 40 fatalities.

Hundreds of protesters were injured in the chaos.

Wounded demonstrators were seen lining the corridors of one of the city's main hospitals. Doctors struggled to cope with the flood of patients.

The opposition — galvanized by growing public dissent under the increasingly authoritarian President Bakiyev and angered over a recent 200 per cent hike in electricity and gas bills — has vowed not to be intimidated by a government crackdown.

The turmoil has threatened the relative stability of this mountainous former Soviet republic, seen by both Russia and the U.S. as a strategic ally. Kyrgyzstan hosts a U.S. base that supports military operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Unrest widens

Opposition activist Shamil Murat told The Associated Press that Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongatiyev was beaten to death by a mob in the western town of Talas, where the unrest erupted Tuesday in the town of 30,000.

On Wednesday, the melees spread to spread to the southern city of Naryn. Some 5,000 protesters seized the city's regional administration building and installed a new governor, opposition activist Adilet Eshenov said. At least four people were wounded in clashes, including the regional police chief, he said.

Opposition supporters burn a billboard of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Tuesday in the town of Talas. ((Reuters))

Another 10,000 protesters stormed police headquarters in Talas, where on Tuesday protesters held the regional governor hostage in his office.

The prime minister, meanwhile, accused the opposition of provoking violence in the country of five million people.

"What kind of opposition is this? They are just bandits," Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov said.

Usenov said Tuesday's violence in Talas had left 85 officers injured and 15 unaccounted for.

Bakiyev came to power after spearheading street protests in 2005 dubbed the Tulip Revolution, which ousted his predecessor, accused of corruption, cronyism and cracking down on the opposition.

Five years later, Bakiyev is facing similar accusations from an opposition that says he has sacrificed democratic standards to maintain order while consolidating power in the hands of his brothers and son.

Authorities over the past two years have clamped down on the media, and opposition activists say they have been subjected to intimidation and politically motivated criminal investigations.

With files from The Associated Press