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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:30 GMT
Kyrgyz capital sees first protest
Kyrgyz policemen arrest opposition supporters in downtown Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Reports said 10 people were arrested
Riot police have broken up a protest in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, the first since anti-government demonstrations swept the country's south.

Up to 200 people gathered in Bishkek's main square, but police broke up the rally before it could get going.

Police reportedly hit some of the crowd with sticks and arrested 10 organisers.

It is not clear how closly the event was linked to protests in the south, where the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad are under effective opposition control.

The new Kyrgyz Interior Minister, Keneshbek Dushebayev, warned protesters in the south that the authorities could use force to restore order.

"The law gives us every right to take action, including by using physical force, special means and firearms," he was quoted as saying.

The wave of unrest was sparked by disputed parliamentary election results earlier this year, and protesters want President Askar Akayev to step down.

A BBC Central Asia correspondent, Monica Whitlock, says protesters in the southern city of Osh, where demonstrations have been staged for days, are now trying to organise a bus convoy to travel to Bishkek for a larger rally later in the week.

Protesters say parliamentary poll was rigged and want president to resign
Opposition includes local leaders who lost seats
Protests fuelled by dissatisfaction at the economy and official corruption
Presidential election due in October but Mr Akayev barred from running

The authorities will be especially sensitive about opposition actions in the government's seat of power, and our correspondent says this may be the reason why Wednesday's protest was broken up so quickly.

Earlier on Wednesday, President Akayev sacked those responsible for security - his interior minister and prosecutor general.

A presidential spokesman said Bakirdin Subanbekov and Myktybek Abdyldayev were dismissed due to their "poor work".

The ministers' departure comes as a result of mounting protests sparked by elections in February, and a second round on 13 March, which saw the opposition reduced to just a handful of seats in the 75-member parliament.

Towns occupied

Osh and Jalal-Abad were both quiet on Wednesday morning.

A small group of protestors gathered in the main square in Osh, reiterating an opposition demand that Mr Akayev should stand down.

Protesters are still occupying official buildings, the television station and the airport, and security forces have all but disappeared from the city centre.

But the tension of the last few days in Osh has evaporated, according to our correspondent.

Many people in the town are not especially bothered by the local administration collapsing, she added. Some support the opposition, while others do not see that it makes much difference.

On Tuesday evening, President Akayev appeared on television and invited the opposition to open what he called a civilised dialogue.

Appearing calm and assured, he said he was ready and waiting for an opposition leader to come forward to begin discussions.

This speech has put the protesters on the spot, our correspondent says.

The opposition is splintered along regional lines and so far no central figure has emerged.

Mr Akayev's Prime Minister, Nikolai Tanayev, was due to fly to Osh on Thursday in an effort to start a dialogue, according to the president's spokesman.

President Akayev addressing the Kyrgyz parliament

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