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Kyrgyz leaders to prosecute ex-president

Departure allays fears of new violence

By Peter Leonard and Yuras Karmanau
Associated Press / April 17, 2010

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JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan — With the tremors of Kyrgyzstan’s violent revolution subsiding, the country’s provisional leader said yesterday that her government will push for an international investigation of the former president, who has fled the country.

Ousted leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev left Thursday for neighboring Kazakhstan on a flight arranged by US, Russian, and Kazakh officials in an unusual joint mediation effort. The United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also helped negotiate Bakiyev’s departure, which eased fears of a civil war in the strategically placed former Soviet nation.

Bakiyev was driven from the capital, Bishkek, on April 7 after troops opened fire on protesters, who then stormed government buildings.

This mountainous country of 5 million bordering China hosts the US air base at the capital’s airport, which provides refueling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for troops. Russia also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva said yesterday that Bakiyev’s departure, organized “with the help of our friends from other countries, was the only chance to avoid the escalation of violence, tensions, and setting one part of the nation against another.’’

“We avoided clashes between different groups, and even regions of the republic,’’ she said.

While allaying fears of renewed violence, Bakiyev’s departure angered many in Kyrgyzstan who wanted him and his clan brought to justice for endemic corruption and allegations they ordered troops to shoot protesters.

Otunbayeva said her government would push for an international investigation of the violence. “Bakiyev won’t evade justice,’’ she said.

“If Kurmanbek Bakiyev has no plans to hide in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan, the international community will find him and make him answer on behalf of the Kyrgyz people,’’ said Otunbayeva’s chief of staff, Edil Baisalov.

With the prospects of the interim government looking brighter after Bakiyev’s departure, both the United States and Russia have cause to be satisfied.

“In Kyrgyzstan, US and Russian interests clashed, but the Kremlin and Washington have managed to quickly come to an agreement and find a common solution,’’ said Kyrgyz political analyst Mars Sariyev. “This is a positive sign that shows that the United States and Russia are able to cope with challenges and threats.’’

Otunbayeva has said that her government will extend the current agreement allowing the US to use the Manas air base for another year after it expires in July. Operations at base returned to normal Thursday for the first time since the street disturbances that led to Bakiyev’s ouster.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said yesterday that the United States “will continue to assist Kyrgyzstan in developing its social, economic, and security structures and is in discussion with the interim Kyrgyz government on how best to help the country return to a democratic path.’’

Speaking earlier this week on a trip to Bishkek, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake rejected suggestions that US efforts to promote democratic standards had been lackluster under Bakiyev — a charge that has prompted some to suggest the United States compromised on its human rights standards to maintain its strategic position in Kyrgyzstan.

“Human rights and democracy were a very important part of our agenda,’’ Blake said.