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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Violent clashes in Kyrgyz capital

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) -- Pro-government and opposition demonstrators clashed Tuesday in the Kyrgyz capital, throwing bottles, lobbing rocks and beating one another with sticks as the government and a group of legislators squared off over demands President Kurmanbek Bakiyev resign.

Interior Ministry troops separated the protesters, setting off what appeared to be smoke bombs, releasing tear gas and wrestling them away from the scene of the fight, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.

Three ambulances could be seen carrying injured people away from the square. Four people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds and two with gas poisoning, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Kyrgyz Health Ministry.

The clash erupted as the two camps held rival rallies in the center of Bishkek on the sixth day of anti-government protests. It was Kyrgyzstan's deepest political crisis since the March 2005 uprising that brought the current leadership to power on pledges of political reform. The opposition says Bakiyev has not delivered on those promises.

Earlier Tuesday, Bakiyev angrily rejected an overnight move by opposition lawmakers to pass a new constitution, calling the vote an illegal attempt to seize power.

"Some lawmakers tried to usurp power last night," Bakiyev told a news conference. "Without getting a quorum, in the still of the night and secretly from the people they went ahead, ignoring the (current) constitution and the law." A quorum is considered to be 51 lawmakers.

However, the opposition claims that the 38 signatures garnered overnight were enough to pass the draft constitution because they represent a majority of the 75-seat legislature. Three more legislators signed on to the constitution on Tuesday, said lawmaker Omurbek Babanov.

"Bakiyev wants a civil war," said opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev. "We don't need a man like him. He has to leave."

About 7,000 anti-government protesters rallied in Bishkek's central square, outside the presidential headquarters, known as the White House, on Tuesday. About 100 small tents and 15 larger yurts, like those traditionally used by nomads, were set up. About 5,000 more supporters are coming from northern provinces, Babanov said.

After the fight between rival protesters, soldiers wearing helmets and wielding shields formed ranks and began moving toward anti-government protesters, apparently trying to push them from the square.

Bakiyev threatened to use force against the protesters if they attempt to seize government buildings.

"If they try to seize the White House, the state television or other government buildings, we'll have to use force," he said in televised remarks.

Bakiyev's supporters were also out in force. About 1,000 protesters gathered at the parliament building for a pro-government rally, inside a cordon of armed police officers and soldiers. They were joined by 19 pro-government lawmakers.

"The new amendments are illegal," lawmaker Kamchibek Tashiyev told the crowd. "We support the constitution and the president."

Several held a large Soviet flag with a hammer and a sickle.

"What the parliament has done is illegal," said protester Zamir Kolybekov, 47. "A new constitution should not be adopted this way. I am for Bakiyev, peace, order and stability."

A former opposition leader, Bakiyev was appointed and later elected president after the 2005 uprising that ousted longtime leader Askar Akayev, but political tension has persisted. His rule has been marred by slayings of prominent people, prison riots, economic ills and battles for control of lucrative businesses.

Bakiyev told reporters he did not want to dissolve the legislature, despite demands to do so by some of his supporters. The president also said he would not take measures against the opposition legislators.

"We don't have to start criminal cases," Bakiyev told The Associated Press. "These matters can be settled politically."
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