Kyrgyzstan: New Leader In Place

A man walks out of a broken door of a shop in Beshkek, Kyrgyzstan, Friday, March 25, 2005. The opposition scrambled to restore order and fill the power vacuum Friday, a day after protesters drove Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev's government from power, unleashing widespread looting.
Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev emerged from the Parliament building Friday and said he has been named Kyrgyzstan's acting president and prime minister - a day after protesters drove President Askar Akayev's government from power and unleashed widespread looting.

Both the United States and Russia have military bases near Bishkek, the capital of this strategically important Central Asian nation - sandwiched between China's northwest border and Russia's eastern border, with Afghanistan just one country away.

Kyrgyzstan was annexed by Russia in 1864 and returned to independent status in 1991, with the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The U.S. has 1,000 troops at its Krygyzstan base. Asked Thursday whether the situation poses a hazard to Americans, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he does not believe U.S. forces will be harmed by the turmoil.

In Washington Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the upheaval in Kyrgyzstan could wind up a democratic success story if political change occurs without violence.

"This is a process that's just beginning. We know where we want to go," Rice said.

Russia meanwhile is saying it would not object if the ousted president, Akayev, wants to go to Russia.

He's reportedly now in neighboring Kazakhstan, with his family.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the situation in Kyrgyzstan is the result of the authorities' weakness and the social and economic problems that had accumulated there.

In Bishkek Friday, opposition leader Bakiyev addressed a crowd of about a thousand supporters in the city's central square, announcing his new status as the nation's acting leader and proclaiming: "Freedom has finally come to us."

Bakiyev's appointment as acting president was endorsed by a newly restored parliament of lawmakers who held seats before the elections, which fueled protests against longtime leader Akayev and his government.

Bakiyev urged opposition supporters not to allow looting, and stressed that the popular opposition figure Kulov would coordinate law enforcement. Bakiyev proposed that former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva be named the country's top diplomat, and said, "All intergovernmental agreements will remain in full force and are in full effect."