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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyz Protesters Storm Provincial Building

TALAS, Kyrgyzstan — Protesters demanding the resignation of the Kyrgyz president stormed a regional government office on Tuesday and seized the regional governor.

Discontent has been on the rise because of what the opposition says is growing public frustration with corruption, nepotism and high prices.

The unrest is of particular concern to the United States, which operates an important military air base in Kyrgyzstan supporting operations against the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan.

The rioting in Talas, tucked away in a picturesque valley on the Kyrgyz border with Kazakhstan, broke out after thousands of protesters gathered on the main square demanding that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev resign.

Local opposition leaders and witnesses told Reuters that Talas Governor Beishen Bolotbekov had been taken hostage when demonstrators seized a local government office.

“The entire building is under protesters’ control. We will stay here for the night,” Bolot Sherniyazov, an opposition politician, said by telephone from inside the building. Asked if the governor was held there as a hostage, Sherniyazov said, “Yes, he is our hostage,” before handing his mobile telephone to Bolotbekov.

“I am here with everyone. They rushed into the building all of a sudden, and we are just sitting here,” Bolotbekov said.

The opposition had demanded Bakiyev resign or meet their demands such as cracking down on corruption, firing his relatives from senior positions and abolishing high utility fees.

Kyrgyz Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev said late Tuesday that the governor had been freed.

“They [protesters] had seized the government building, prepared Molotov cocktails and kept the governor hostage for a long time. … Police have stormed the building. He [the governor] is now at a local police station,” Kongantiyev told reporters, adding that some police officers were wounded in the operation.

Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov initially denied that the governor had been captured and vowed to use force to prevent any further unrest.

Last month, Kyrgyzstan, also home to a Russian military base, marked the fifth anniversary of a violent revolt that toppled Kyrgyzstan’s previous president and brought Bakiyev to power.

The events in 2005 also started in a provincial town, where protesters stormed local government headquarters before the unrest spread to other parts of the country.

Opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev said separately on Tuesday that there would be more rallies and protests this week.

The clashes came three days after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Bishkek and called on Kyrgyzstan to protect human rights. Protesters shouted “help us” as he drove to the country’s parliament.

Ban’s first tour of Central Asia highlighted human rights issues and emboldened local rights defenders to speak up. Addressing reporters and members of parliament in Bishkek, Ban said in unusually forthright terms: “Quite frankly, recent events have been troubling, including the last few days.”