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Violence rocks south Kyrgyzstan

4 officers said beaten to death; opposition protests vote results

DZHALAL ABAD, Kyrgyzstan -- Thousands of people stormed government buildings yesterday, and at least four police officers were reported beaten to death as protests against President Askar Akayev swelled in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Akayev, who has run the Central Asian country since it became independent in 1990, warned last week that any attempt to copy the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine, another former Soviet state, could lead to civil war.

The opposition, protesting against what it says were rigged parliamentary elections, effectively seized control of the southern Kyrgyz town of Dzhalal Abad, after protests Friday in nearby Osh and two other regions in the south.

A police source in the capital, Bishkek, said four police officers had been beaten to death in Dzhalal Abad in clashes that erupted after police fired shots but were unable to stop the demonstrators.

The growing protests prompted a call from the United States, which said it was concerned by the violence in Kyrgyzstan, for talks between the government and opposition. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev also said the government wanted a peaceful resolution: ''We have never gone against our own people, especially not with weapons in our hands."

The opposition said six of its protesters were hurt in the clashes in Dzhalal Abad.

''The police opened fire, and I saw with my own eyes that four people got hit by ricochets," said demonstrator Abdul Kambarov, his cheek cut and trousers ripped.

Another protester, Dzhumakhan Amadalyeva, 59, said she was sitting on the staircase of the city's main administration building when special forces tried to storm it.

''I grabbed the legs of one of them as he was running up stairs, and another one beat me in the face with a rubber truncheon," she said, her face heavily bruised.

Protesters later surged back into the building. Video footage showed a police chief asking the crowd to let his forces, mostly young men, to leave the scene unharmed. Protesters formed a corridor to let them out but made them leave riot gear behind.

Government buildings were burning and streets were strewn with broken glass -- caused, witnesses said, by protesters throwing gasoline bombs to force police to leave the town.

By late evening, drunken young people were roaming the streets and there was no sign of police or troops.

Protests against the results of parliamentary elections, which international observers criticized as flawed and in which the opposition was routed, have largely been confined to the south but have become increasingly bloody.

There is strong resentment in the mostly ethnic-Uzbek south of the mountainous country against the wealthier north, dominated by ethnic Kyrgyzians. Osh was the scene of bloody ethnic clashes in the 1980s and '90s.

The State Department said Washington was following events in Kyrgyzstan closely and called for talks to seek a peaceful solution. ''US officials have been in contact with both the government and the opposition to reinforce this message," it said in a statement.

''In the police we have no rubber bullets, no gas. We don't even have enough truncheons," Tanayev, the prime minister, told local television. ''Not the president, not me, and not the interior minister will allow weapons to be used against our own people."

The opposition says Akayev could use his majority in parliament, which includes two of his children, to change the law and stand for a third term in elections later this year. ''We want Akayev to understand what's going on. Either he resigns now or he gives us an assurance he will resign in October," said Bektur Asanov, a losing candidate in the poll.

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