Gunfire erupted in Kyrgyzstan Friday as hundreds of interim government backers fought supporters of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev for control over regional government buildings. At least one person was killed and more than 60 injured in the worst violence since last month's forceful government change.
The opponents exchanged gunshots, hurled stones and fought with sticks on a square in front of the regional government building in Jalal-Abad, the administrative centre of a province in southwestern Kyrgyzstan.
Several hundred Bakiyev supporters, some armed with automatic rifles, holed up in the building overnight after capturing it Thursday evening, but backers of the interim government drove them out Friday after hours of tense confrontation.
Earlier in the day, the interim government's backers also ejected a pro-Bakiyev crowd that had occupied the regional government offices in Osh, the country's second largest city, located 70 kilometres from Jalal-Abad.
The two parties threw rocks at one another, but there were no serious injuries reported there. Interim government supporters waved flags, shouted "hurray!" and congratulated each other on their victory after their opponents fled.
Both cities are in southern Kyrgyzstan, the power base for Bakiyev, who was ousted April 7 amid clashes in the capital between government forces and protesters that left at least 85 people dead. Bakiyev fled to the ex-Soviet nation of Belarus where he was granted a refuge.
The prospect of further disturbances in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation, will cause alarm in Washington and Moscow, which both have military bases there.
The US Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, voiced concern about the unrest and urged parties to refrain from violence. And the Kremlin on Friday sent a special envoy, former UN Security Council secretary Vladimir Rushailo, to Kyrgzystan.
The current Russian Security Council Secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, was quoted by Russian news wires as saying on Friday that the interim government is capable of restoring order. He said that Russia wouldn't interfere.
In Jalal-Abad, about 4,000 backers of the Ata-Meken party that supports the interim government arrived early Friday to try to evict the occupiers, but many dispersed when gunfire broke out, leaving a crowd of several hundred.
Some men in the approaching mob returned fire, while others fought with sticks. At least 1 person died of wounds and more than 60 others were injured, including 32 with gunshot wounds, the Health Ministry said.
During a second major wave of the gunfire exchange in the afternoon, an Associated Press reporter saw one man hit by a bullet in the shoulder.
While the provisional authorities are struggling to restore control over the entire country, the overwhelming number of interim government backers in Friday's clashes indicated they enjoy considerable popular support.
Despite concerns that anti-government protests might also be held in Bishkek, there were no signs of disturbances in the capital by Friday afternoon.
Outside parliament, about 400 supporters of the Ata-Meken party backing the interim government rallied to support it, while other party activists marched around the city waving red flags -- the kind the opposition often had used before driving Bakiyev from power.
In a related development, prosecutors disclosed details Friday of what they called a wiretapped telephone exchange between a former senior adviser to Bakiyev, Usen Sydykov, and an anti-government lawmaker discussing the organization of rallies in southern Kyrgyzstan.