Kyrgyzstan’s ousted but defiant President Kurmanbek Bakiyev told AFP Friday he had no intention of resigning and accused the country’s new self-proclaimed leadership of causing many deaths this week.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with AFP in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad, Bakiyev, 60, said he did not give any order for security forces to open fire on protesters in Bishkek this week, where at least 76 people died.
No US or Russia involvement
The ousted president also said that neither Russia nor the United States, both of which maintain military facilities in the strategic ex-Soviet Central Asian republic, played any role in the upheaval there this week.
“I am not the one with blood on my hands,” said Bakiyev, speaking confidently and appearing tired but relaxed in a blue pin-striped suit with an open collar at a house in Jalalabad.
AFP’s meeting with Bakiyev provided the first independent confirmation of his whereabouts after he was forced to flee the capital Bishkek on Wednesday when protesters overwhelmed security forces and stormed government buildings.
“Those people who organised armed men to storm the White House have blood on their hands. It’s the opposition whose hands are bloody,” Bakiyev said.
Bakiyev insisted he did not give any order to security forces to open fire on protesters, but said they had done so in line with Kyrgyz law which allows such force in the event of attacks on the presidential office building.
“I did not give the order to shoot” in Bishkek on Wednesday, he said.
Opponents form Government
Bakiyev opponents led by former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva claim to have formed a provisional government that is now in charge of the country and have repeatedly demanded Bakiyev formally resign.
He reiterated Friday however that he had no intention either of leaving Kyrgyzstan or of resigning.
“I have no plans to leave the country and I am not resigning from the presidency,” Bakiyev stated.
Bakiyev, who was quoted as saying earlier that foreign forces played a role in the upheaval this week, rejected speculation it was fomented in part from Russia.
“I do not believe that Russia or the United States of America had a hand in these issues,” he said, declining to elaborate further on his earlier comment.
He also rejected assertions from political opponents and other critics that his rule was marked by corruption and economic mismanagement.
“This is an old tune — any president can be blamed once out of office,” Bakiyev said, adding: “You saw how much I raised up the level of the country. But once they’ve thrown you out, no one remembers the good things.”
The deposed president also rejected criticism that his policies had worsened poverty in Kyrgyzstan, already the poorest country to emerge from the former Soviet Union.
“The people did not become poor yesterday. They have been poor since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Corruption and poverty are related.”
Support remains for ousted leader
Support for the ousted Kyrgyz leader is strongest in the south of the country around Jalalabad and the nearby city of Osh, but an AFP reporter who was in both cities said his backing appeared to be crumbling fast.
Bakiyev said he remained ready to negotiate with the country’s self-styled new leadership.
“I will be glad to sit down with the opposition at the negotiating table,” Bakiyev told AFP.
He acknowledged that the country has a potentially volatile ethnic mix of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks but downplayed talk of civil conflict in the region.
“I’m not expecting war,” he said. “My main goal is preventing conflict and civil war.”
Talking about the events that unfolded fast in Bishkek on Wednesday, Bakiyev said he was in the presidential office building when a sniper attempted to shoot him.
“When I went to the rest room to wash my hands, I didn’t notice the sniper because of the curtains” on the window, Bakiyev said.
“He took a few shots but did not manage to hit me. Had it not been for those curtains I would be dead right now.”
In order to meet Bakiyev, AFP journalists were picked up on a square in central Jalalabad by two armed guards in a small car.
The guards took the AFP reporters on a lengthy, circuitous ride through narrow sidestreets in the city before arriving at the residence where Bakiyev was staying.
Bakiyev gave a tour of the home and offered the AFP journalists tea, fruit and bread as they sat a table in the dining room in a home decorated with brightly-colored rugs on the floor and benches.
As he spoke, around 200 people were gathered outside the main regional government office in Jalalabad.
They said the pro-Bakiyev governor had fled during the night and voiced worry about growing ethnic tension in the area.