Ousted Kyrgyzstan president begins new life in Belarus

Kurmanbek Bakiyev accepts President Lukashenko's offer to move to Minsk after violent street protests against his rule

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko speaks to a media in Minsk, in March 2006.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said Kyrzygstan's deposed leader, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has accepted an offer of refuge in Minsk. Photograph: Nikolai Petrov/Belarusian Telegraph Agency/AP

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan's ousted president, began a new life in exile in Belarus today, after taking up an offer of refuge from the country's president.

Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that Bakiyev arrived in Belarus's capital, Minsk, two weeks after he was forced to flee Kyrgyzstan after violent street protests against his rule.

"President Bakiyev and his family are in Minsk under the protection of our state and me personally," Lukashenko said in televised remarks to parliament, adding his new guests were undergoing medical checkups.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government immediately demanded that Belarus hand back Bakiyev to stand trial. At least 85 people were killed on 7 April after his elite troops opened fire on crowds as they tried to storm the main government building in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek.

Edil Baisalov, chief of staff to Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, said Bakiyev should be extradited as soon as an investigation had been completed into the massacre. "We expect Belarus to provide him protection and security until the day he is held liable for his bloody crimes," Baisalov said.

Bakiyev initially escaped to Jalal-Abad in the south of the country. He then flew to neighbouring Kazakhstan. He left Kazakhstan on Monday for an unknown destination, with speculation swirling that he might be heading for Belarus, Latvia or Turkey.

Lukashenko's decision to offer Bakiyev sanctuary appears part of his on-going power struggle with Moscow. Belarus's relations with its giant neighbour have deteriorated in recent months, with Lukashenko declaring that Minsk needs to move away from its dependence on Russia oil and gas. Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, welcomed Bakiyev's overthrow, after the ousted president reneged on an agreement to evict the Americans from their Manas military base near the Kyrgyz capital. Russia has already recognised the new regime.

President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the Russian military to protect ethnic Russians in the Central Asian nation, amid continuing instability with ethnic riots in the capital and growing resistance by those loyal to Bakiyev in the south. Russia has its own military base near Bishkek.

Deadly clashes broke out on this week between mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Meskhetian Turks in the village of Mayevka outside Bishkek. Hundreds of ethnic Kyrgyz men armed with sticks and metal bars beat residents and burned several houses and cars. At least five people were killed, the interior ministry said.

Kygryzstan's various ethnic groups, which include a large minority of Russians as well as Uzbeks, had generally lived in relative harmony. The rampage appears to have been motivated by an attempt by squatters to seize arable land. The Meskhetian Turks are descendants of an ethnic group deported in 1944 by Stalin from Soviet Georgia.

Otunbayeva said the situation in Kyrgyzstan was under control, despite strong evidence to the contrary. She said tough measures would be taken against any group trying to seize land illegally. "The government will be resolute in curbing such actions," she added.


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