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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Leader Questioned

ReutersKyrgyz riot police on Thursday taking control of Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, the site of an opposition demonstration.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan's top opposition leader was questioned by authorities on Saturday, two days after police ended more than a week of rallies demanding the president's resignation by breaking up a protest outside his office.

Felix Kulov, the former prime minister who leads the opposition United Front alliance, said he had been questioned by investigators of the National Security Committee in the capital Bishkek as a witness to the protest Thursday outside Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's headquarters.

Speaking to reporters after nearly four hours of questioning, Kulov accused authorities of inciting violence among protesters to create a pretext for a crackdown in which police used stun grenades and tear gas.

"[The authorities] saw that the protests were about to achieve their aims and got scared," Kulov said.

The crackdown ended nine days of demonstrations in Bishkek. Eight policemen and seven protesters were wounded, authorities said. Authorities have since arrested 34 activists and have been questioning opposition leaders.

On Friday, authorities also seized print runs of three opposition newspapers and an opposition-linked web site was put out of service by hackers -- moves that drew U.S. criticism.

"This act of censorship by a government that has benefited from a free press and has made public declarations of its support for independent journalism and democracy is disappointing," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

Political tension has plagued Kyrgyzstan since street protests forced longtime President Askar Akayev out of office in March 2005.

Bakiyev, who was elected after Akayev's removal, has been under growing pressure to resign amid accusations of corruption and cronyism. He further angered the opposition in December when he reversed several constitutional amendments and regained the authority to form his own Cabinet.

Both the United States and Russia have air bases in Kyrgyzstan, making the prospect of political instability in the country a major concern.