Kyrgyz president refuses to step down

Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president on Sunday defended the legitimacy of his rule and urged the United Nations to send peacekeepers to help stabilize the strategically vital Central Asian nation.

TEYIT, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president on Sunday defended the legitimacy of his rule and urged the United Nations to send peacekeepers to help stabilize the strategically vital Central Asian nation.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev told The Associated Press in an interview at his home village in the south of the country that he had not ordered police to fire at protesters in the capital.

“My conscience is clear,” he said.

Bakiyev fled the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday after a protest rally against corruption, rising utility bills and deteriorating human rights exploded into police gunfire and chaos that left at least 81 people dead and sparked protesters to storm the government headquarters.

Looking self-assured and calm, Bakiyev denounced the protest as a “coup” and angrily rejected the self-proclaimed interim government’s demand to step down.

“I’m the head of state,” he said.

The stalemate has left Kyrgyzstan’s near-term stability in doubt, a worry for the West because of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan that is a crucial element in the international military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Bakiyev strongly urged the U.N. to send a peacekeeping force to Kyrgyzstan, arguing that the nation’s police and the military are too weak to keep the unrest from spreading.

“The people of Kyrgyzstan are very afraid,” Bakiyev told the AP in an interview in the yard of his family compound in Teyit, surrounded by almond and apricot trees. “They live in terror.”

The head of interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, said Sunday that Bakiyev must face trial, rescinding an earlier offer of security guarantees for him.

The statement reflected the toughening of the new authorities’ stance as they grow increasingly impatient with the ousted Bakiyev’s refusal to step down.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters Sunday at his family mansion, Bakiyev warned the government against an attempt to arrest him, saying that it will lead to bloodshed.

Servants treated the crowd to a traditional rice dish and dumplings.

Outside, gangs of young men barricaded a road leading to his house with cars, but they didn’t have any weapons.

Across the mountains from Bakiyev’s stronghold, a deputy head of the self-declared interim government, Omurbek Tekebayev warned Bakiyev (Koor-mahn-BEK Bah-KEE-yev) against using force.

“If he attempts to destabilize the situation and shed blood, he would put himself outside the law and we would conduct an operation to destroy him as a terrorist and a criminal,” Tekebayev told the AP in the capital, Bishkek.

Bakiyev called for an international probe into the circumstances of violence in Bishkek.

“An independent international committee should be sent here to conduct a full investigation into the events of April 7,” he told the AP. “If the committee says that I’m guilty, I’m willing to accept full responsibility.”

Bakiyev added that he dosn’t trust a probe launched by the self-proclaimed interim government. “I don’t believe the people currently conducting the investigation because they are throwing all the blame on me,” he said.

Bakiyev claimed that the first shots came from protesters, including what he said was a sniper shot that nearly missed him in his office in the government headquarters.

“When a sniper intentionally fired at my window and only missed me by chance, naturally the troops returned fire,” he said, denouncing the protesters as “zombies.”

In taking power Thursday, the interim leaders said they controlled four of Kyrgyzstan’s seven regions. By Saturday they claimed to have expanded their control throughout the country.

Kyrgyzstan’s society is strongly clan-based, but there are few signs that Bakiyev could muster any significant tribal support in the south to challenge the self-declared interim government. Some analysts say that a hike in utility prices and massive corruption has set many southerners against Bakiyev.

“Bakiyev has poisoned lives of southerners as well as people in the north,” said Toktogul Kakchekeyev, an independent political analyst based in Bishkek. He predicted said that Bakiyev will try to bargain with the interim government to receive immunity for all members of his clan in exchange for stepping down.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday spoke with Otunbayeva (Oh-toon-BAH-yeva), the interim leader, to offer humanitarian aid and discuss the importance of the U.S. air base. Otunbayeva reaffirmed the country would abide by previous agreements regarding the base.

The U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan provides refuelling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as an important transit point for troops. U.S. Central Command spokesman Maj. John Redfield said that although normal flight operations at the base were resumed Friday, military passenger flights were being temporarily diverted.

Russia, which also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan, had pushed Bakiyev’s government to evict the U.S. military. But after announcing that American forces would have to leave the Manas base, Kyrgyzstan agreed to allow them to stay after the U.S. raised the annual rent to about $63 million from $17 million.

—————

Associated Press Writers Yuras Karmanau and Leila Saralayeva in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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