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Kyrgyz Opposition Claims Control

Site of small plane crash in Redwood City, Calif., Sept. 2, 2010.
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Kyrgyzstan's interim leader chose key officials for a new government Friday and moved quickly to try to quell widespread disorder and looting following the ouster of longtime President Askar Akayev.

Akayev's whereabouts remained a mystery, although a statement purportedly from him said he was out of the country temporarily, denied he had resigned, and denounced what he called the opposition's "unconstitutional coup d'etat."

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev emerged from the Parliament building and said he had been named acting prime minister and president.

"Freedom has finally come to us," Bakiyev told a crowd in Bishkek. Celebrations also were reported in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the popular uprising began earlier this month in the impoverished Central Asian nation.

Gunshots rang out on a street in downtown Bishkek after dark Friday and helmeted police in bulletproof vests chased a rowdy group of youths as looting continued for a second day.

In another part of the capital, with its streetlights extinguished, shots were fired near the central department store on the main avenue where vigilantes and police were on duty against looters. Police fired into the air to warn off a group of looters, witnesses said.

"The city looks as if it has gone mad," said Felix Kulov, a prominent opposition figure who was released from prison during Thursday's uprising and appointed coordinator of law enforcement.

At Akayev's lavish residence on Bishkek's outskirts, a security guard who identified himself only as Col. Alymkulov said the house was empty and untouched by looters.

Bakiyev's appointment as acting president was endorsed by a newly restored parliament of lawmakers who held seats before this year's disputed elections, which fueled protests against Akayev.

Bakiyev chose mostly prominent opposition figures for the posts of foreign, defense and finance ministers and chief prosecutor. For the job of interior minister, he picked Myktybek Abdyldayev, a former chief prosecutor who had been fired Wednesday by Akayev.

He appointed them as acting ministers, thereby avoiding the need for approval by parliament's upper house.

Bakiyev also signed an order appointing a communications minister and governors of the northern Chui and the southern Osh and Jalal-Abad regions, which were the epicenter of anti-Akayev protests.

The new leaders' immediate challenge in the strategic nation — it has both Russia and U.S. military bases and borders on China — was in halting vandalism and looting that left major stores in Bishkek gutted and damaged by youths who roamed the capital overnight. Kulov urged police, who have virtually disappeared from the streets, to return to work or face punishment, but he acknowledged few had shown up.