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News Update
22-03-05, 23:59
Kyrgyzstan president rules out force to end protests

By Stefan Wagstyl in London and Reuters in Bishkek

President Askar Akayev on Tuesday ruled out the use of large-scale force to quell demonstrations gripping southern Kyrgyzstan, but he defended results of the recent disputed parliamentary election.

Speaking before the newly elected parliament, Mr Akayev dismissed the unrest as a "temporary phenomenon" staged by marginal opposition groups encouraged by unnamed foreign powers, and said he was sure the situation could quickly be brought under control.

Mr Akayev's defiant words suggest he is no mood to negotiate with leaders of the opposition groups, which called for protests after elections that were criticised as flawed by international observers.

But his pledge to rule out the use of force shows he is aware of the danger of provoking more violence and is taking account of international calls for a peaceful resolution.

Mr Akayev's officials have offered to talk to opposition leaders, but the terms are unclear. The protests began after March 13, when opposition groups were routed by parties supporting Mr Akayev, who has ruled impoverished Kyrgyzstan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr Akayev has promised to stand down when his third term expires in the autumn, but the opposition wants him to quit now. It fears he could use his parliamentary majority to secure an extension or transfer power to his two children - a son and daughter who are members of parliament.

Anti-Akayev demonstrators have seized control of public buildings in the southern city of Osh and four other towns, as well as Osh airport.

Earlier reports that four policemen were killed have been denied, but the atmosphere remained tense, with groups roaming the streets and the police lying low. The crowds were reported to be smaller than on Monday.

The protests have been limited to the Fergana Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan, a region populated by ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks as well as Kyrgyz, which erupted into ethnic violence in the early 1990s. Mr Akayev's stronghold in the north, including Bishkek, has been quiet so far but opposition leaders have said the capital will be their next "target".

Mr Akayev has previously pledged to resist any attempts to drive him from power, on the lines of the popular revolts in Georgia and Ukraine. Unlike the protesters in Georgia and Ukraine, the anti-Akayev forces lack a unifying leader.

A popular choice might have been Felix Kulov, 55, the former police chief known as "the people's general", but he is in jail on embezzlement charges, which his supporters say were politically inspired.

The only opposition leader to have declared his intention to run in the autumn presidential poll is Kurmanbek Bakiev, a 56-year-old former prime minister and leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan.

But Mr Bakiev was in power two years ago when the police shot dead five anti-government demonstrators in the southern district of Aksy.

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