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Q&A: Kyrgyz unrest

A violent uprising in Kyrgyzstan on 7 April left more than 80 people dead and swept President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from power. The BBC News website looks at the causes and potential consequences of the crisis in the Central Asian republic.

What sparked the unrest?

The violence was the culmination of months of discontent over rising prices and allegations of corruption in Kyrgyzstan, which had been regarded as one of the more progressive of the Central Asian states.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan (11 April 2010)
Mr Bakiyev had been accused of giving power to his relatives

When Mr Bakiyev was installed as president after the 2005 Tulip Revolution overthrew Askar Akayev, he promised to tackle corruption and grinding poverty.

In 2006 he agreed to reduce his presidential powers in response to mass protests, something almost unheard of in a region where leaders have tended to respond harshly to opposition.

But public opinion has turned against him in recent years, with critics angry at his apparent failure to act on his promises. He has also been accused of nepotism - giving key political posts to family members and allegedly grooming his son, Maksim, for leadership. Similar accusations helped bring down his predecessor.

Elections in July 2009 resoundingly returned Mr Bakiyev to office but were widely criticised by international monitors.

Mr Bakiyev's opponents have also been angered by increasing restrictions placed on the free press. They say dozens of journalists have been attacked, threatened, intimidated or killed since 2006 and that several opposition publications have been closed down.

The government's doubling of household utility costs in January also led to significant discontent and several protests in the subsequent months.

Who is now in power?

Kyrgyzstan interim leader Roza Otunbayeva in Bishkek (13 April 2010)
Ms Otunbayeva is a former ally of the ousted leader

Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva has been named as the interim leader of a "people's government".

Ms Otunbayeva, a career diplomat who marched in victory with Mr Bakiyev in 2005, has described the uprising as "our answer to the repression and tyranny of the Bakiyev regime" and has promised to hold elections some time in late September or early October.

The new administration initially appeared to have little problem bringing the police and military under its control, but it has proved harder for them to stamp their authority as the upheaval gave rise to rising crime and civil disruption.

Former Defence Minister Baktybek Kaliyev has been arrested and warrants have been issued for several of Mr Bakiyev's relatives and former officials.

Other relatives of Mr Bakiyev have handed weapons to officials in the family stronghold in the south of the country.

How has Mr Bakiyev reacted to the unrest?

At first, Mr Bakiyev retreated to his home town of Jalalabad in the south of the country, hoping to rally support.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev's bodyguards in Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan (15 April 2010)
Mr Bakiyev fled after shots were fired at a rally of his supporters

Clan rivalry has been a major feature of Kyrgyzstan's politics and there were fears that his presence in the south - where his clan ties are strong - could lead to further unrest.

But although several thousand people did attend rallies for Mr Bakiyev, he received few influential endorsements and appeared to have lost the backing of many of his former allies.

On 13 April, he appeared to relent when he said he would consider standing down if his safety, and that of his relatives, could be guaranteed.

Two days after his presidential immunity from prosecution was withdrawn - he fled to Kazakhstan.

The interim government said Mr Bakiyev had resigned and displayed what they said was his signed written resignation.

But on 19 April, the Kazakh authorities said he had gone. The following day, he re-emerged in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has said he and his family had been welcomed as guests.

From Minsk, Mr Bakiyev insisted he remained the "legitimate leader of Kyrgyzstan" and has said that "only death" can change that.

What has been the international impact?

Kyrgyzstan's location means it is firmly entrenched in the new "great game" tussle between the US, Russia and China for influence and access to resources in the region - so they all have a vested interest in ensuring its stability.

Manas airbase, Kyrgyzstan (9 April 2010)
The US base in Kyrgyzstan helps supply operations in Afghanistan

The country hosts airbases for both Russia and the US, both of whom were quick to urge restraint.

The US base at Manas is vital as a staging post for its operations in Afghanistan. When Mr Bakiyev announced he was closing the base in early 2009 - following a significant aid pledge from Moscow - President Barack Obama agreed to a massive increase in rent payments.

The US lease on the base was due to expire in July 2010 but, after a short period of uncertainty over its future, interim deputy leader Omurbek Tekebayev said that it would be extended for another year.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake visited Ms Otunbayeva, offering Washington's assistance and saying he felt "optimistic" about the interim government's progress.

As a former Soviet country, Moscow sees Kyrgyzstan as within its sphere of influence. Moscow quickly offered its support to the interim government along with some $50m (£32m) in aid.

But as the unrest rumbled on, some in Moscow warned the country could slide into anarchy.

What challenges does the new government face?

In the immediate future, the interim leaders will need to secure their position and take some control over the country, something they appear to be struggling to do.

Workers clean up a looted shop in Bishkek on 8 April 2010

The protests were followed by widespread looting and damage to shops and homes in the capital - local people set up vigilante groups to protect their property.

Illegal land seizures have also become an issue, as people make the most of the relative lawlessness to claim a patch of farmland for themselves. At least five people have died in such clashes so far.

There have been reports of protests by the police force, demanding better conditions and justice for their colleagues killed and injured in the unrest.

Kyrgyzstan's poverty - a root cause of the crisis - will not go away overnight, neither will the high prices which helped bring about such discontent.

The country is lacking in natural resources and heavily reliant on its neighbours for fuel. It also desperately needs the income generated by the two foreign military guests.

The corruption which has been inherent in the country's political system is also unlikely to disappear.

Kyrgyzstan has seen deadly clashes before between the northern and southern regions. Mr Bakiyev does still have support in the south, and there are fears that ethnic unrest could yet emerge as a real threat.



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