JALAL-ABAD, KYRGYZSTAN // A leader of the self-declared interim government that has claimed power in Kyrgyzstan said today the deposed president must return to the capital or face arrest by special forces. But ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was defiant, rallying some 5,000 supporters in his power base and refusing to give in to demands that he step down. "My power is in the people, not in me," he told the crowd in the city of Jalal-Abad.
In Bishkek, the capital, interim government vice-premier Azymbek Beknazarov said that if Mr Bakiyev does not come to Bishkek after this rally, special forces would prepare an operation to arrest him. It was not immediately clear what the interim authorities would do with Mr Bakiyev if he did go to Bishkek. The hardening positions on both sides raised the prospect of new violence in the impoverished, strategically important former Soviet Central Asian country.
The United States and Russia both have military bases in Kyrgyzstan and developments are being watched with concern in both Washington and Moscow. Mr Bakiyev fled the capital to his native south last Wednesday after a protest rally in the capital erupted into shooting and chaos; at least 81 people were killed. Protesters stormed government building and opposition leaders declared themselves in control.
The opposition initially had guaranteed Mr Bakiyev safe passage out of the country if he stepped down, but Mr Bakiyev insists he is the legitimate leader and refuses to go. Mr Beknazarov said today that his government has ordered Mr Bakiyev stripped of the usual presidential immunity. He also said the country's constitutional court has been suspended because of unspecified violations. The US base, at the capital's international airport, is a key piece in the Nato military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The base provides refuelling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and is a transit point for troops.