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Kyrgyz Protests Turn Violent

At least 10,000 opposition supporters stormed a police station and occupied several state buildings in Kyrgyzstan on Sunday in the biggest demonstration since allegedly fraudulent elections last month, a government spokesman said.

As many as 10 people could have been killed in the clashes, Interfax quoted a police source as saying.

The government said it was ready to negotiate with the protesters who have demanded President Askar Akayev's resignation.

"We hope there will be no further violence," presidential aide Abdil Seghizbayev said.

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev said talks would only be possible if Akayev himself sits down at the negotiating table.

"All other lower-level negotiations will be just a waste of time," he said.

A source in the Jalalabad police department said that he did not know "the precise number of those killed or who they are. But we could be talking about 10 people."

Police fled to the roof of their station, firing shots into the air to deter the stone-throwing protesters in the southern city of Jalalabad, regional government spokesman Orazaly Karasartov said.

He said smoke could be seen rising from the police station and that protesters broke windows.

Local civic activist Cholpon Ergesheva said 20,000 people were taking part in the protests and that the demonstrators had taken over the governor's office in Jalalabad.

Ergesheva said two of the three buildings at the police station had burnt down and that all the police officers had fled. Some protesters remained at the police station while others occupied the nearby mayor's office after the soldiers guarding that building also left, she said. Jalalabad Governor Jusup Sharipov, said there were not enough police officers in the region to immediately restore order.

The riot was the latest in a string of protests sparked by the Feb. 27 parliamentary elections won by Akayev's allies. Critics claim the vote and a subsequent runoff were tarnished by fraud. Europe and the United States said the polls were seriously flawed, a charge denied by the government.

Sunday's riot came a day after police forcibly evicted demonstrators from the governor's office in Jalalabad and another government building in the city of Osh. More than a dozen people, including three police officers, were injured, and more than 200 demonstrators were arrested, police and civic activists said.

Protesters were still occupying five other state buildings in southern and western districts. Street rallies across the country have also increasingly gained momentum. On Saturday, about 8,000 protested in three cities.

"The authorities' decision to use force against people won't bring any good. It will only provoke anger," said Bakiyev, leader of the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a statement Sunday, urging the government and the opposition to refrain from using force and to begin a dialogue.

Some analysts have suggested Kyrgyzstan is ripe for mass protests akin to those experienced during last year's Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia.

(The Moscow Times 21.iii.05)

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