04/20/2007, 00.00
KYRGYZSTAN
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Kyrgyz protesters cleared away by police

Protesters had camped out for the past week in front of the presidential palace, known as the White House. Last night clashes took place and the police launched tear gas and arrested about a hundred people. President and opposition level charges at each other as the situation remains uncertain.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Police have used tear gas and baton charges to disperse about 1,500 anti-government protesters who had marched onto the presidential palace throwing bottles at guards and threatening to storm the building. Opposition leaders blamed a small a number of radical elements among the demonstrators or government agents provocateurs for the violence.

Several protests wielding steel bars and makeshift shields threw rocks and broke glass at the police. Three protesters and two police officers were hurt. About a hundred people were arrested.

Police removed a tent camp in Alatoo Square where demonstrators had been peacefully protesting since April 11, demanding the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev for failing to tackle corruption and crime and of sabotaging democratic reform.

By the early hours of the day, hundreds of riot police were stationed at Bishkek’s key intersections.

“They [the opposition] have shown that they cannot control the people they brought to the rally,” said Interior Minister Bolotbek Nogoibayev. “We are receiving telephone calls that protesters are stopping cars and stealing from people.”

But opposition leader Isa Abdrakhmanov, said Thursday's violence involved only radicals, not the mainstream opposition.

Felix Kulov, a former prime minister and now a staunch opposition leader, said the episode was the work of provocateurs who threw stones at the riot police, thereby giving authorities a pretext to employ force against the protesters.

Almaz Atambayev, a former opposition leader whom Bakiyev appointed prime minister a few months ago to divide his opponents, tried to minimise the incident. “Many shop windows have been smashed, but there was no big looting,” he said.

Some analysts now expect Bakiyev to press a political offensive to restore presidential authority. For the past year the opposition has tried to force Bakiyev to resign through street protests.

Meanwhile the country appears split between supporters of the president and those demanding his immediate resignation. (PB)

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