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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

30,000 Demonstrate in Bishkek

APKyrgyz protesters Thursday rallying in the capital's central square, where they called for President Bakiyev to resign.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- About 30,000 angry demonstrators rallied in Kyrgyzstan's capital on Thursday to demand that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev resign over his refusal to accept the opposition's demand for a constitutional revision to trim his powers.

The opposition rally fed fears of a replay of the violent March 2005 protests, which ousted Bakiyev's predecessor, Askar Akayev, and were followed by widespread looting.

Most shops and markets were closed on Thursday, and hundreds of police in riot gear and with German shepherds deployed around the presidential headquarters in a show of force, as the protesters, waving red flags of the opposition's main For Reforms movement, chanted: "Bakiyev, Go!"

The opposition has been urging Bakiyev to fulfill his election promises and conduct constitutional reforms curtailing presidential powers and giving broader authority to the parliament and the Cabinet.

The protesters rallied in the early afternoon in front of the presidential headquarters on Bishkek's central square, but their numbers dwindled first to about 10,000 and then were down to just about 1,000 in the evening.

Several hundred protesters were expected to spend the night in the tents they set up on the square, and protesters will return in full strength Friday, said Almazbek Atambayev, one of the leaders of the main opposition For Reforms movement.

Impoverished Kyrgyzstan, hailed in the 1990s as an "island of democracy" in Central Asia, has seen deterioration of public security, economic problems and political tension. Bakiyev's rule has been marred by slayings of prominent people, prison riots and battles for control of lucrative businesses.

"The president has been lying endlessly to us about the constitution, and we are tired of this lying," Omurbek Tekebayev, the former parliament speaker who is one of the opposition leaders, told the protesting crowd.

Teimir Saviyev, a leader of the For Reforms movement, said protesters would remain on the central square until Bakiyev stepped down. "We won't seize any administrative buildings," he said, adding that the opposition set up patrols led by retired military officers to prevent looting and violence in the capital.

Bakiyev said the opposition should not exert pressure on him, and that the reforms should not be adopted in an "hour or two." He said he would submit constitutional amendments to the parliament on Monday and would initiate a national referendum if lawmakers failed to approve it within 10 days.

"I am not leaving," he told his foes in parliament, as about 3,000 opposition supporters gathered at a square in front of the building. "If I do, people will say: 'What kind of president is he?'"

Bakiyev warned he would order the use of force if the rally became violent. The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, urged Kyrgyz authorities and the opposition to "show calm and restraint" on Thursday.

Bakiyev promised opposition leaders during talks earlier this week that he would submit constitutional changes to the parliament Thursday, immediately dissolve his Cabinet and allow the parliament to form a new one. At the same time, he insisted that the president and the parliament should stay in place until 2010, and ignored other demands that included the dismissal of top officials accused of corruption and other abuses.

"Bakiyev broke his promise again," lawmaker Melis Eshimkhanov of For Reforms said Thursday. "He chose the path of conflict, and the people's only demand will be his resignation."

Pro-presidential lawmakers rejected opposition pressure to rush through the constitutional reforms. "A handful of lawmakers should not speak on behalf of the people and exert pressure on the president," said one of Bakiyev's allies in parliament, Iskander Gaibkulov.

Regional divisions have played an important role in Kyrgyzstan's volatile politics. Bakiyev comes from the south, while many opposition leaders come from the north.