BISHKEK (Reuters) - Russia told its military to protect ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday as the country’s new interim leaders struggled to restore order after a violent uprising that ousted the president.
President Dmitry Medvedev issued the order after looters attacked Russian and Meskhetian Turkish villagers on the outskirts of the capital Bishkek in violence that killed five people as night fell on Monday.
Interim rulers who took control after the April 7 overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev are facing lawlessness around Bishkek and resistance from Bakiyev loyalists in the south.
Russia and the United States both operate military bases in the impoverished country of 5.3 million people, and the unrest has already disrupted operations at the U.S. Manas air base supplying troops in Afghanistan.
“President Medvedev gave an order to Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to take measures to ensure the security of Russian citizens in Kyrgyzstan,” a Kremlin spokesman said.
The spokesman said the measures would include increased security for Russian interests in the country, where vigilantes have been roaming Bishkek.
It was unclear what steps the Defence Ministry might take, but they appeared likely to involve the small Russian base in northern Kyrgyzstan, currently manned by some 500 servicemen.
The interim government said interim chief Roza Otunbayeva spoke on the telephone with the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet republics, earlier in the day.
“There was no discussion of any military intervention,” said Edil Baisalov, an interim government official. “The interim government is fully in control of the security situation.”
The Kremlin sent some 150 paratroopers to Kyrgyzstan immediately after the April 7 uprising — in which at least 85 people died — to protect personnel at Russia’s Kant air base.
Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Medvedev said Kyrgyzstan faced anarchy and warned of regional consequences.
“The government is currently non-existent, it’s not there,” he said. “We count on the interim government to take necessary and sufficient steps. Because in this case anarchy will gravely hit the people of Kyrgyzstan and its neighbours.”
In a statement issued late on Tuesday, the interim Kyrgyz government vowed that in “cases of attacks on civilian and military targets, law enforcement agencies will shoot to hit.”
Belarus said on Tuesday that Bakiyev was now in Minsk, having fled to Kazakhstan last week.
The latest attacks, mainly against Meskhetian Turks, have raised the spectre of ethnic violence in the Muslim nation, where ethnic confrontation has been rare in the past. Russian officials have said there were attacks on ethnic Russians too.
In the lush, hilly outskirts of Bishkek, a military helicopter roared low overhead as some 300 troops confronted rioters, who dispersed into villages after a standoff.
One villager in Mayevka, scene of the worst attacks, pointed to bloodstains on the ground where a Turk was killed trying to defend his property against 100 Kyrgyz.
“Everyone ran away but he put up resistance. So they stabbed him to death with knives and hayforks,” said Alik Aliyev, a neighbour and also an ethnic Turk.
In the morning, smouldering rubble and smoke-blackened huts lined the potholed streets of Mayevka, as villagers trickled back to pick through the rubble of their ruined homes.
Kyrgyzstan’s Meskhetian Turks are originally from Georgia, but were deported to Central Asia by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
In Bishkek, hundreds of vigilantes gathered on the main city square to organise a resistance movement against looters.
Marauding crowds were earlier spotted in various parts of Bishkek but the situation appeared calm by Tuesday night.
The new authorities have pledged to quickly restore order, initiate democratic reforms and hold free parliamentary and presidential elections in September or October.
But they face tough resistance in Jalalabad, a southern city in Bakiyev’s tribal heartland, where Bakiyev loyalists have effectively seized power and installed a pro-Bakiyev governor.
Writing by Matt Robinson and Maria Golovnina; additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko, Raushan Nurshayeva, and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Andrew Roche