Sun, Apr 11, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Kyrgyz bury their dead, US flights halted

REUTERS , ATA-BEIIT, KYRGYZSTAN

People stand in front of the government building in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Friday. Thousands of grieving people gathered in the capital’s main square to mourn victims of last week’s revolt, in which at least 78 people died and 1,460 were injured.

PHOTO: EPA

Kyrgyzstan yesterday buried several of those killed in the overthrow of the government, while security concerns prompted the US military to halt troop flights from its base in the Central Asian state. About 3,000 mourners gathered on the edge of the Kyrgyz capital at a mass funeral to commemorate at least 78 people who died in protests on Wednesday, during which government troops opened fire on demonstrators outside the presidential building.

“Those who died on April 7 are the heroes of Kyrgyzstan,” Roza Otunbayeva, head of the interim government, told the crowd.

“It was our duty to establish justice. Those who are being buried here today are all our children, the children of Kyrgyzstan,” she said.

Mourners carried coffins draped in the red-and-yellow Kyrgyz national flag and clutched portraits of the dead at a memorial complex built in honor of the victims of mass executions ordered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1930s.

Relatives lowered bodies into 16 graves lined in rows and joined hands in prayer, while mullahs chanted in Arabic.

Mourners showed little sympathy for the president. Kuat Niyazbekov, attending the funeral, said his brother had died in the uprising.

“We don’t even know what really happened on the square, what his last minutes of life were like,” he said. “We can’t forgive a president like that.”

The uprising in Kyrgyzstan, where a third of the 5.3 million population lives below the poverty line, forced the president to retreat to his stronghold in the south of the country and has raised doubts over the future of the US air base near Bishkek. All flights carrying troops from the Manas base, a vital cog in supplying NATO operations in Afghanistan, were suspended from Friday evening, a spokesman for the base said. Troops are using alternative routes in and out of Afghanistan.

“While normal flight operations at Manas were resumed on Friday, a decision was taken Friday evening to temporarily divert military passenger transport flights,” base spokesman Rickardo Bodden said by telephone.

His comments confirmed those of the US military’s Central Command on Friday. Another US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was a security-related decision made by the base commander on the ground.

Pentagon officials say Manas is central to the war effort against the Taliban, allowing around-the-clock flights in and out of Afghanistan. About 50,000 troops passed through last month alone.

Members of Kyrgyzstan’s self-proclaimed new leadership have said the US lease on the base could be shortened.

Russia, the first country to recognize the new Kyrgyz leadership, also has an air base in the country. A Russian official, who declined to be named, said on Thursday that the strategically important country should have only a Russian base.

Bodden declined to say when passenger flights would resume or to reveal the alternative route being used. He said the base was still conducting fuelling, cargo and humanitarian flights.

“The transition center at Manas is conducting other flight operations on a limited basis and continues to support operations in Afghanistan,” he said.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has refused to step down, remains in southern Kyrgyzstan. Otunbayeva, a one-time ally who helped Bakiyev to power in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution,” offered him safe passage out of Kyrgyzstan should he step down.

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