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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 07:23 GMT
Kyrgyz protests at critical stage
By Monica Whitlock
BBC Central Asia correspondent

Anti-government protesters are holding new rallies in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Osh.

A large crowd met in the main square and marched round the town, calling for President Askar Akayev to stand down.

On Monday, protesters took over all official buildings and the airport, amid dramatic scenes.

The protests, which began after last month's parliamentary elections, may be at a critical stage, with moderates on all sides anxious for negotiations.

Tuesday's proceedings began with big crowds filling the main square.

They passed round a microphone, yelling that President Akayev must go and railing against the poverty and unemployment that has beset Kyrgyzstan, especially in the south.

Then the rally moved off, taking its message around the city where many ordinary people have stayed at home, worried by the chaos that has turned their quiet town upside down in the last few days.

Protesters say this year's parliamentary poll rigged
Want President Akayev to quit early
Opposition includes local leaders who lost seats
Protests fuelled by disatisfaction at the economy and official corruption
Presidential election due in October, but Mr Akayev barred from running

Thousands of protesters took over the city hall, the police station and other municipal buildings.

The riot police outside just turned and fled.

The protesters even took the airport, which is now closed, and security forces are unable to fly in reinforcements.

The protest started because many local politicians felt they had been cheated in parliamentary elections last month.

Now they have reached a critical point. With all the administration in opposition hands, it is hard to see where activists can go from here. And it is possible that the rallies, up to now fairly peaceful, may degenerate.

On Monday night came worrying reports that protesters in the nearby town of Jalal-Abad had broken into a prison and set free the inmates.

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