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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

17 Killed in Kyrgyz Protests

Reuters/www.azattyk.orgOpposition supporters burning a billboard displaying Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev during a rally in the northwestern town of Talas on Tuesday, April 6.

Police in Kyrgyzstan opened fire Wednesday on thousands of angry protesters who tried to seize the Central Asian nation's main government building amid rioting in the capital. The government has said at least 17 were killed and 180 wounded, and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has declared a state of emergency.

Police in Bishkek at first used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and concussion grenades to try to control crowds of young men clad in black who were chasing police officers, beating them up and seizing their arms, trucks and armored personnel carriers.

The opposition — galvanized by growing public dissent under the increasingly authoritarian Bakiyev and anger over huge increases in the cost of utilities — has vowed not to be intimidated by a government crackdown.

"We don't want this rotten power!" protester Makhsat Talbadyev said, as he and others in Bishkek waved opposition party flags and chanted: "Bakiyev out!"

The unrest has threatened the relative stability of this mountainous former Soviet nation seen by both Russia and the U.S. as important for the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan hosts a U.S. base that supports military operations there.

Amid the protests Wednesday, anti-government protesters in Bishkek tried to use one of the personnel carriers to ram the gates of the government headquarters, known as the White House. About a half dozen young protesters shot Kalashnikovs into the air from the square in front of the building. Several police officers were seen bleeding heavily from the beatings.

Some 200 elite police forces tried to push back the crowd but were forced back toward the White House. Then police started firing live rounds, dispersing the crowd. Several thousand people remained, spread out over several blocks. Ambulances arrived to take away the wounded.

At least 10 opposition leaders were arrested overnight and were being held at the security headquarters in Bishkek, opposition lawmaker Irina Karamushkina said.

"Authorities chose terror as a response" to popular protests, she said.

As the day wore on, the protesters in Bishkek appeared to be leaderless, and some even drunk. As the sun sank lower in the sky, their next step was unclear.

Many of the opposition leaders were erstwhile allies of Bakiyev, who had helped bring him to power in the street protests of March 2005 known as the Tulip Revolution. They ousted his predecessor, accusing him of corruption, cronyism and cracking down on the opposition.

Kyrgyzstan's former president called for Bakiyev to step down on Wednesday.

"The best outcome for the people of Kyrgyzstan would be the resignation of Bakiyev," Askar Akayev, who ruled the Central Asian state until he was ousted in protests in 2005, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Five years later, Bakiyev is facing similar accusations from an opposition that says he has sacrificed democratic standards to maintain peace, while enriching himself and his family.

The president has not been seen in public Wednesday and his whereabouts were unclear.

Unrest also broke out for a second day in the western town of Talas and spread to the southern city of Naryn.

Some 5,000 protesters seized Naryn's regional administration building and installed a new governor, opposition activist Adilet Eshenov said. At least four people were wounded in clashes, including the regional police chief, he said.

Another 10,000 protesters stormed police headquarters in Talas, where on Tuesday protesters held the regional governor hostage in his office.

Witnesses said the crowd in Talas, mostly middle-aged men from nearby villages, looted police headquarters Wednesday, removing computers and furniture. Dozens of police officers left the building and mingled with protesters.

The prime minister, meanwhile, accused the opposition of provoking the violence in the country of 5 million people.

"What kind of opposition is this? They are just bandits," Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov said.

Hundreds of protesters overran the government building Tuesday on Talas' main square. They were initially dispersed by baton-wielding police, but then fought through tear gas and flash grenades to regroup, burning police cars and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.

Usenov said Tuesday's violence in Talas had left 85 officers injured and 15 unaccounted for. 

(AP, Reuters)