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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

6,000 Urge Bakiyev to Quit in Bishkek

Itar-TassThousands of people demonstrating on Bishkek's main square near the presidential headquarters Wednesday.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the main square in Kyrgyzstan's capital Wednesday to press President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to resign.

Bakiyev sought to head off the opposition protest by signing constitutional amendments curtailing his power Tuesday, but the opposition rejected his move and showed up in full force, just two years after demonstrators drove his predecessor from power.

Thousands of protesters gathered at seven locations across the capital, Bishkek, and marched to the Ala Too square carrying banners reading "No to Bakiyev!" and "Reforms Without Bakiyev!" Most participants were young, and many were armed with massive wooden sticks.

About 6,000 protesters rallied at the square near the presidential headquarters, setting up dozens of traditional yurts.

"We want a government that will be honest and open ... and not divide the nation into the south and the north," former Prime Minister Felix Kulov told the rally.

Bakiyev and his entourage come from the south, while Kulov and many other opposition leaders are from the north.

Protesters booed Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev when he attempted to address them and talk about consensus. They said protests would continue until Bakiyev stepped down.

"We are disgusted by Bakiyev's policy," said one of the protesters, Mirlan Ozubekov, 20, from the northern Issyk-Kul region. "He only puts the southerners in official jobs."

"We are sure that we will be able to force Bakiyev to resign," said Fatima Tagayeva, 55.

Underscoring the tension between the north and the south, Deputy Interior Minister Temirkan Subanov said authorities deployed 300 elite police from the southern Osh region to help protect order in the capital.

In all, 4,000 police were put on duty to maintain order in Bishkek during opposition rallies, officials said.

The situation was calm Wednesday, and many officers were lying on the grass to relax under the warm sunshine, taking off some of their clothes.

The prospect of large, protracted protests that could throw the country into chaos is a concern for both Washington and Moscow. The United States and Russia each have an air base in Kyrgyzstan.

Bakiyev on Tuesday accused the opposition of plotting a coup and threatened tough action if the demonstrations jeopardize public security.

Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev said any attempt by protesters to storm the president's headquarters, which also houses the government, would be put down by force.

Shop and market owners -- mindful of the looting that followed the fall of Askar Akayev's regime two years ago -- were taking security precautions ahead of the opposition protests, with some saying they had hired armed guards, local media reported.

Subanov, the deputy interior minister, said guards at stores had been allowed to use weapons to prevent looting.