Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Sunday, 11 April 2010 14:56 UK

Protests and bloodshed in Bishkek

Kyrgyz women crying at a mass burial (10/04/10)
Dozens of people were killed in anti-government clashes

By Rayhan Demytrie
BBC News, Kyrgyzstan

April 7th is my sister's birthday. Usually I give her a ring and sing Happy Birthday to her down the phone. But this year, I just never got the time to call her.

Because early that day I set off with my colleague Abdujalil from our base in Almaty, in Kazakhstan. We were heading for neighbouring Kyrgyzstan - just three hours away.

We'd been told there was to be a series of opposition rallies across the country so had packed clothes just for the day.

We assumed the protests would follow the usual pattern. People would gather, demand changes in the country and then go home.

Three days on and I am still in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

No-one - from journalists covering the region to the president of this country himself, who has been hiding in the south of the county - had any idea of what was about to happen.

A group of around 500 protesters had gathered outside the opposition headquarters. Overnight most of their leaders were detained by the authorities.

Riot police surrounded the protesters. But the demonstrators broke through their cordon and then events began to move fast.

The number of protesters, mainly young working men, grew rapidly and by the time they arrived in the capital's main square they were in their thousands.

They were angry and aggressive. Some appeared to be drunk.

They whistled and threw stones at the presidential administration building they call the White House.

This had been the headquarters of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who himself came to power after mass opposition demonstrations five years ago. Now the air resounded to shouts of: "Bakiyev must go!"

'Show the world!'

The security forces responded with a deafening volley of stun grenades.

It was chaotic, difficult to gather thoughts, to understand what was happening.

Protesters kept approaching us offering to give interviews.

Protesters storm government headquarters in Bishkek (08/04/10)
The protests led to the overthrow of the president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev

I pulled myself together and began describing the scene on camera. At first, I did not realise that security forces and snipers positioned on the roof of the White House were firing live rounds at the thousands of protestors gathered outside.

"What are you filming?" shouted one protester as he ran towards us. "There is blood, people are dying, show that to the world!"

We walked towards the body of a dead man. He was lying on the pavement. It was raining. There were puddles streaked with blood.

A group of protesters surrounded the body and covered it with a wet, yellow sheet. They pulled it back to show us the man's face. He looked young, perhaps in his 20s. He had bruises on his face. It looked as if he'd been shot in the head.

I asked the protesters to replace the sheet, to cover the man's face again. It was a mistake. They got angry.

"Why are you afraid to show the truth? People are dying here!" they shouted angrily.

It occurred to me this may not have been the ideal place for a debate about BBC editorial policy on showing graphic images.


The demonstrators started moving away from the square towards the local police headquarters. Random gun shots could be heard nearby.

We knew it was time to leave and quickly completed our interviewing and filming.

We walked. I smoked. It had been an intense experience. And it proved to be only the beginning of round-the-clock coverage of the events in Kyrgyzstan.

The next day hundreds of people returned to the square outside the White House eager to hear from the opposition what to do next.

They laid flowers over the blood which still stained the ground. Prayers were said.

Hours after the clashes Abdujalil and I ended up in the flat of a Kyrgyz family in the outskirts of Bishkek.

We worked late into the night, writing reports and filing them down the line to London.

A group of surprisingly cheerful women, neighbours and relatives who had got together for the evening looked after us.

Hospitably, they offered us rounds of vodka as they watched a TV set broadcasting images of the day: the protesters storming the White House, the chanting, the firing, the bodies on the streets.

Text messages appeared on screen talking of widespread looting which was taking place in the capital.

It turned out that the landlady, whose name was Nasiba, was celebrating her birthday that day. It reminded me. I never did phone my sister to wish her Happy Birthday. But I know she will understand why.

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