Sun, Mar 27, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Kyrgyzstan police battle pillagers as chaos grows

EYEWITNESS One reporter witnessed first-hand the chaos that gripped the capital, as the new government tried to restore order since the old one was ousted

AP , Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Elderly opposition supporters wearing traditional Kyrgyz hats attend a rally to mark the stunningly swift change of power yesterday.


Gunfire, wailing sirens, dark deserted streets and groups of young men with armbands helping police confront looters: so began the Kyrgyz capital's second night after the country's sudden shift of power.

Hundreds of pillagers wandered the rain-slick streets in mobs, throwing stones at cars and seemingly seeking a repeat of the previous night, when the city was theirs.

But this night, police were back on duty -- cruising the streets in marked cars and barking shouts for order through megaphones. Groups of stick-wielding young men hovered outside shops and offices -- this time to guard them.

Police appeared to be trying to determine the location of groups of looters, then rush to the area in several cars and go after them in vehicles and on foot, firing into the air.

One such operation played out beneath our second-floor office windows for some 10 minutes, the quiet street breaking out into shouts and shots that filled the air with the smell of gunpowder.

The only major department store that survived Thursday night's plundering, TsUM, was guarded by about 100 volunteers. Standing in the rain, they said they would defend the store all night long.

One of the volunteers tore a piece of yellow cloth in two, using one strip as an armband and another to wrap it around an iron bar gripped in his hand.

I asked him if he would really hit anyone with it. He smiled broadly and said: "Yes."

Earlier in the day, hundreds of poor treasure-hunters wandered up and down the five floors of a shopping mall that stood bare, its windows smashed and their frames charred.

All the goods in this Turkish-owned Beta Stores mall were swept away in a rampage the previous night, but people sifting through the remaining trash still found things to take away: metal scrap, empty boxes, broken mannequins.

Almazbek Abdykadyrov was mounting several wooden boards on his bicycle.

"I want to build a house; I don't have any material myself. Others are taking, so I'm taking, too," he said.

Two teenagers carried a sink, saying it was "a present from Beta Stores."

The area was littered with pieces of cardboard boxes and cloth, empty bottles.

Shops that escaped damaged Thursday night were closed, or their owners hung signs reading "we are with the people" in hopes of warding off attacks.

Bishkek residents were frightened and shocked.

An elderly woman told me she was shaking as she watched the looting overnight and cars passing by her windows until 3 am stuffed with carpets and other goods, some even hauling refrigerators and other large appliances or pieces of furniture on the roof.

"I've never seen anything as horrible as this in my entire life. Nobody was stopping them," she said, overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, Felix Kulov, an opposition leader and former interior minister, released from jail immediately after the fall of President Askar Akayev, was trying to restore order, holding meetings with police and security officials and trying to convince them to return to work.

Put in charge of law enforcement by the new government, Kulov pledged to "give a big battle to the pillagers."

Some police were back on the streets Friday -- but without their uniforms. They still appeared shocked by the storming of the government building the previous day.

About a dozen of them were guarding TsUM, the department store.

One of them, a senior police lieutenant who would not give his name, said police were ready to resume service.

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