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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyz Government Resigns Amid Scandal

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan's government resigned Wednesday after a special state commission ruled that senior officials were to blame for civilian deaths when police opened fire on demonstrators in March.

"Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev tendered his resignation, and the president met his request," a presidential spokeswoman said, adding that the resignation was a result of the commission's report.

The report concluded that security forces had used firearms illegally to put down a protest in the Central Asian state's southerly Dzhalal Abad region in March, when five civilians were shot dead and dozens wounded in clashes with police.

Under Kyrgyz law, the entire Cabinet automatically must resign if the prime minister quits. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev was named acting head of the government until a new Cabinet is formed. Officials said they hoped the Cabinet's resignation would defuse continued protests over the killings.

President Askar Akayev acknowledged in a nationwide broadcast Monday the authorities were to blame for the deaths.

The March protests had been sparked by the arrest of Azimbek Beknazarov, a regional deputy in the national parliament. He has since been freed, but his release has failed to ease tensions in the Aksy district, where the opposition blocked the main north-south highway last Monday, demanding an objective inquiry into the clashes and the resignation of the government. They suspended the blockade Tuesday but threatened to renew protests if authorities failed to punish those guilty.

The state commission found several presidential, secret police and local officials guilty of unlawful detentions and illegal use of firearms during the March protest.

Akayev convened an emergency meeting of his Security Council on Wednesday where he was expected to decide which officials to name publicly. No names have been published yet.

Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov told a news conference after the meeting that the government's resignation and the results of the inquiry would help quiet the political situation.

"I believe the situation there [in the south] will normalize by the evening today," he said.

Ashirkulov said Akayev would hold consultations with all parliamentary factions on the new prime minister. The legislature is due to vote on the candidate, but it is unclear when.

The opposition, which has held mass protest rallies in the capital, Bishkek, has also fiercely criticized last week's vote in parliament, which turned over 1,270 square kilometers of Kyrgyz land to neighboring China.

But Akayev, repeatedly criticized in the past by Western human rights and democracy bodies for harassment of his opponents and vote rigging, appears to have weathered another political tempest staged by his political opponents.

The soft-spoken 57-year-old physicist still enjoys vast support from his native north and from Kyrgyzstan's Russian-speaking ethnic groups. But analysts say the south, separated from the north not only by mountain ridges but also by culture, will still remain in opposition.