Lawmakers whose disputed election brought down the Kyrgyz government last week won support yesterday from a key leader in the new government, signaling a possible split in the victorious opposition as it struggles to re-establish order in the former Soviet republic.
Former opposition leader Felix Kulov, who was freed from jail by the protesters who seized power Thursday, said yesterday he was backing the election commission's statement legitimizing the new legislators, whose election many view as fraudulent.
The disputed elections, in which lawmakers allied to ousted former president Askar Akayev won an overwhelming majority, led to a swell in protests in the ex-Soviet republic which culminated in Thursday's storming of the presidential and government headquarters.
Since then, the dueling parliaments have been locked in limbo, with each vying for legitimacy in the current political chaos.
"The new parliament is legitimate and the old parliament's term has expired," Kulov told a meeting of the new legislators.
He threatened to "take measures to arrest" anyone in the old parliament who refused to step down.
Later, Kulov -- who is in charge of the nation's security forces -- apologized for the comment.
When Prosecutor-General Azim Beknazarov challenged him, saying: "These are the people who freed you, will you arrest them?", Kulov responded: "I am too tired. I apologize for that."
The new legislators on Saturday also received the backing of the Central Election Commission to take their seats in parliament, despite an earlier Supreme Court decision that the previous parliament should be reinstated, said Tuygunaly Addraimov, a commission member.
After his ouster last week, Akayev fled the country and took refuge in Russia, while the former parliament reclaimed its expired mandate and quickly named a new interim leader -- former opposition party leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Protesters supporting Akayev yesterday temporarily blocked a main road linking his hometown with the Kyrgyz capital before peacefully dispersing.
About 700 people, meeting in Kemin, Akayev's hometown 80km east of Bishkek, said they don't accept interim leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev. More than 100 of them blocked the main road in protest.
New presidential elections have been set for June 26, but the status of the parliament remained a divisive issue, with the two competing legislatures clinging to power in the same building in central Bishkek.
Later yesterday, the 75-person parliament elected this year officially went into session in the grand, wood-paneled auditorium after achieving a two-thirds quorum. Beknazarov said the parliament was now officially recognized, but cautioned that decisions made by the former parliament were still considered valid.
This seemed to rule out any challenge to Bakiyev, who was named acting president by the old parliament in the immediate aftermath of Akayev's ouster.
The split among the new leadership may reflect the deep divisions between north and south Kyrgyzstan. Kulov is from the north, while most of the opposition leaders hail from the south.
Critics say the continued disorder could fuel simmering tension and plunge the shaken Central Asian country into deeper turmoil.
Members of the former parliament, meanwhile, shuffled through the building's halls, and a few gathered in the press room to watch the rival proceedings on television screens.