Kyrgyz government apparently overthrown

April 7, 2010 at 9:58 PM

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, April 7 (UPI) -- Kyrgyzstan was in chaos Wednesday after violent demonstrations left the government reeling, at least 47 people dead and hundreds injured, officials said.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled Bishkek, the capital, on his airplane and opposition leaders declared they were forming their own government, The New York Times reported.

The Times of London reported online Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry said 47 people had died and more than 400 had been injured. However, Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the main opposition party, said more than 100 people had been killed. The BBC reported scores had died but did not provide an exact toll.

Police fired bullets, tear gas and stun grenades into a crowd of thousands that gathered in front of the presidential offices, witnesses said.

The turmoil, which comes five years after the country's so-called Tulip Revolution brought Bakiyev to power, raised questions about the future of an important U.S. air base operating in Kyrgyzstan as part of the NATO mission in nearby Afghanistan, U.S officials said, adding that as of Wednesday evening the base was operating normally.

In a speech to the nation, Tekebaev demanded Bakiyev and his government resign. Bakiyev offered no public comments Wednesday. In a telephone interview with The New York Times, an airport official said Bakiyev departed on the presidential plane.

Dmitri Kabak, director of a local human rights group, told the New York newspaper he was monitoring the protest when riot police officers began firing on the crowd.

"When people started marching toward the presidential office, snipers on the roof of the office started to open fire, with live bullets," Kabak said. "I saw several people who were killed right there on the square."

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek issued a statement saying it was "deeply concerned about reports of civil disturbances."

Russia, which also has military facilities in Kyrgyzstan and a close relationship with the Bakiyev government, appealed for calm, The New York Times said.

"We believe that it is important that under the circumstances, all current issues should be resolved in a lawful manner," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The unrest began last month, with opposition leaders accusing the government of growing its power while failing to bring stability and economic growth to the former Soviet republic in Central Asia, considered among the world's poorest countries.

RIA Novosti reported Russia's military airbase in Kyrgyzstan was put on high alert.

"Permission to leave the base has been restricted for the servicemen," a source in the Russian Defense Ministry said.

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