Belarus says ousted Kyrgyz leader welcome


Associated Press

The authoritarian leader of Belarus said Sunday that the ousted president of Kyrgyzstan would be welcome in his country.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled to Kazakhstan on Thursday, eight days after he was driven out of the Kyrgyz capital in the wake of a bloody uprising. It is unclear how long he intended to remain in Kazakhstan or how long that country would allow him to stay.

Belarus' state news agency Belta quoted President Alexander Lukashenko as saying he would welcome Bakiyev "as the dearest guest, as my colleague."

"If the president of Kyrgyzstan and his family need support and assistance at this difficult time, it will be shown in Belarus," Lukashenko was quoted as saying.

Lukashenko, who is often characterized as Europe's last dictator, frequently scoffs at Western concepts of democracy and human rights. Bakiyev had been criticized for deteriorating human rights in the country that once was regarded as ex-Soviet Central Asia's most enlightened and a few weeks before he was ousted he publicly questioned whether Western-style democracy was proper for the country.

Welcoming Bakiyev could exacerbate Belarus' tensions with the West as well as its difficult relations with neighboring Russia.

Some observers have suggested Russia played a role in Bakiyev's downfall, angry that he backed off his promise last year to evict the United States from its air base in Kyrgyzstan; Russia also has a base in the former Soviet Central Asian nation.

Both the United States and Russia were involved in the deal under which Bakiyev was allowed to fly to Kazakhstan. But none of those countries have expressed approval of him and the arrangement appeared aimed largely at pulling Kyrgyzstan back from violence and even civil war.

At least 83 people died when an April 7 protest rally in the Kyrgyz capital exploded into gunfire and protesters stormed government buildings. Bakiyev fled to his native village in the country's south, where he tried to marshal support to resist the opposition figures who declared themselves the country's interim leaders.

Bakiyev left for Kazakhstan hours after he fled a rally of supporters amid gunfire that witnesses said came from his guards who apparently were spooked by an approaching group of protesters.

Kyrgyzstan is riven by rivalries between the country's north and south, separated by a soaring mountain massif, and clan loyalties are strong. The interim authorities are clearly concerned those conditions could lead to new violence.

On Sunday, provisional vice-premier Almazbek Atambayev visited Osh, the principal city of the south, and called for nationwide unity.

"For the future of our country it is impossible to be by clans or nationality. The government considers it necessary that all nationalities and faiths take part in all spheres management everywhere," he told a meeting in Osh, according to the Interfax news agency.


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