April 8th, 2010
12:44 PM ET

Kyrgyz leader acknowledges coup, but won't abandon job

[Updated at 12:44 p.m.] The United States has closed its embassy in Kyrgyzstan, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

The United States is contemplating moving dependents to Manas Air Base for a few days because of concern about the political violence that has engulfed the central Asian country, the official said.

The U.S. military uses Manas as a supply link for troops in Afghanistan. U.S. closes embassy in Kyrgyzstan

[Updated at 11:02 a.m.] President Kurmanbek Bakiev said it's clear there has been a coup, but emphasized, "I am not abandoning my duties."

"I am prepared to bear responsibility for the tragic events that have happened if it will be proven by an objective and unbiased recognition without hiding behind the presidential immunity. I believe I acted in the way that the constitution required," Bakiev said in his statement, posted on 24.kg, a well-known Kyrgyz Web site.[Updated at 10:02 a.m.] The embattled Kyrgyz president said Thursday he is not giving up his position despite the opposition's assertion that it has taken control of the government.

"I did not abandon my duties and I am not abandoning my duties," Kurmanbek Bakiev said in a letter published Thursday on 24.kg, a news Web site.

[Posted at 7:00 a.m.] A wave of protests left 75 people dead and hundreds injured in Kyrgyzstan, authorities said Thursday, as the opposition seized government headquarters and pledged to address citizens' concerns.

An additional 458 people were hospitalized, said Elena Bayalinova, a spokeswoman for Kyrgyz health ministry.

The capital, Bishkek, was calm Thursday except for small groups of people chanting near the marble government office, known as the white house.

Debris was strewn across the building, including broken glass, torn portraits of former presidents and damaged office equipment.

A former foreign minister said she had taken over the reins and driven President Kurmanbek Bakiev from office.

"We must restore a lot of things that have been wrongly ruled," said Roza Otunbayeva, who declared herself the country's interim leader.

Otunbayeva said at a news conference that the former president had fled to the south of the country with his entourage. "The new government would like to locate him to negotiate the terms of his resignation," she said, adding that Bakiev is trying to consolidate his supporters to help restore his power.

"We will not let him come back to power," said Abdygany Erkebayev, a former parliament speaker and opposition figure.

There was no public statement from Bakiev.

Otunbayeva added that the former prime minister had handed a resignation letter, and the interim government was now in control based on the constitution. She said the new body replaces the president and Cabinet ministers.

Opposition leaders have accused Bakiev of consolidating power by keeping key economic and security posts in the hands of relatives or close associates.

The protests began Tuesday in the northern city of Talas. They were sparked by increases in electric and fuel rates, which had gone up at the first of the year as Bakiev's government sold public utilities to companies controlled by his friends.

Demonstrations spread to the capital Wednesday after the government arrested opposition leaders in Talas.

Otunbayeva discussed a list of priorities the new government would focus on, including restoring the old utility company. The government also said it had taken control of television stations and most businesses owned by the former president's son, including banking and mobile services.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, houses an air base that forms an important link in the supply line for United States and NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan.

The new government denied reports that it was planning to shut down the airbase, but said it intends to review the issue. In Washington, a senior Pentagon official told CNN that the turmoil has interrupted flights into and out of that facility, and it was unclear when those flights would resume. But the U.S. military has contingency plans to deal with the situation, the official said.

As the protests died down, the interim government said it was monitoring the situation to ensure no more violence.

Otunbayeva is the head of the Social Democratic Party and a member of its parliament. She was a leader of the protests that brought Bakiev to power in 2005, and she served as his foreign minister for about two years before quitting to protest his appointment of one of the president's brothers to an ambassadorship, said Mirsulzhan Namazaliev, executive director of the Central Asian Free Market Institute in Bishkek.

On Thursday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe urged citizens to refrain from violence and use dialogue to address their concerns. The group's special envoy to the country, Zhanybek Karibzhanov, is expected to arrive in Bishkek shortly.

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