Anti-government protests swept across the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday as thousands of protesters stormed the main government building, set fire to the prosecutor's office and looted state TV headquarters. At least 17 people were killed and least 180 wounded in clashes, the government said.UPDATE:
The unrest has threatened the relative stability of this mountainous former Soviet nation, which houses a U.S. military base that is a key supply center in the fight against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
Demonstrators furious over government corruption and a recent hike in power prices looted the state television and radio building and were marching toward the Interior Ministry in the capital, Bishkek, according to Associated Press reporters on the scene. Elite police opened fire to drive crowds back from government headquarters.
Opposition activist Shamil Murat told the AP that Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongatiyev was beaten to death by a mob in the western town of Talas where the unrest erupted a day ago.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Bayalinova said 180 people were hurt in the clashes Wednesday, without elaborating. Opposition activist Toktoim Umetalieva said 17 people died after police opened fire with live ammunition. That figure of 17 dead was confirmed by another government health official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
MSNBC is reporting that opposition leaders are claiming more than 100 have been killed in the protests. Emergency officials say at least 50 have been killed.
MSNBC now reports that the opposition claims to have formed a new government:
Opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan said Wednesday that they have formed a new acting government in the Central Asian nation as rioting swept the capital of Bishkek.
The announcement was made on a state television channel after opposition members stormed the station.
Temir Sariyev, an opposition party leader, told The Associated Press that a coalition of politicians had agreed on a new prime minister as well as a new interior minister and new security chief.
Here's some video showing the riots in progress:
A deputy minister was taken and beaten, but there's no word on his whereabouts since. This report suggests his eyes were gouged out even after opposition leaders tried to stop the protesters from doing that.
Reports now indicate that the opposition is in charge as the president fled the capital city.
Leaders of the opposition said they had taken over key installations in Bishkek and were forming a new government. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev flew to Osh, a regional city where he enjoys support, according to news reports. His plans were uncertain, as was his ability to command the country's security forces and reassert his authority.
The death toll of about 40 was likely to rise, health officials in Bishkek said, noting that hundreds of protesters were injured in the violence.
For the United States, the upheaval is of particular concern because its Manas air base, near Bishkek, is a key transit point for supplying troops in Afghanistan. The Obama administration negotiated new lease terms for the facility last year after Bakiyev threatened to evict U.S. forces from the country.
Some in the Kyrgyz opposition accused the United States of ignoring allegations of rigged elections, suppression of independent media and physical intimidation of government critics, attributing its silence to a desire to maintain its military presence in Kyrgyzstan.
A new Kyrgyz government could sow fresh uncertainty over the base to express displeasure with Washington or to extract concessions. Some opposition members earlier called for closing the facility.