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Bishkek: Calm, but continued uncertainty

In Kyrgyzstan, who is in control: Roza Otunbayeva, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, or gangs of young men?

A child stands among mourners in the center of Bishkek, April 9, 2010. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The Kyrgyz capital was quieter tonight than it had been the previous two, following a violent government overthrow that left dozens dead and maybe as many as 1,000 injured, but key unanswered questions hung in the air.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled to the south after protesters stormed his presidential administration two days ago, refused to give up power, challenging the legitimacy of the self-proclaimed provisional government.

At the same time, the new leaders sent mixed messages over the fate of a key U.S. air base, which is crucial for supplying troops in nearby Afghanistan.

Kyrgyz turned out by the thousands today on the capital’s main square to mourn those killed in Wednesday's violent events. The country’s health ministry says that the death toll now numbers at least 76.

After the ceremony large numbers still milled about, and lay flowers at spots where security forces’ bullets cut down protesters. A somber mood lay over the city, and the air was acrid from the buildings that had been looted and burned.

On the gates in front of the presidential administration, its white windows now charred black, mourners had hung photos of the dead. There was also a message: “Death to Bakiyev's family and to [Prime Minister] Daniyar Usenov.”

Small groups formed spontaneously to discuss the past days’ events or the country’s political course. Bermet Kolbaeva, a seamstress, said that she supported the newly-installed government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, a sometime opposition leader and sometime foreign minister.

“[Otunbayeva] is a figure of authority among the population,” Kolbaeva said.

But large groups of tough-looking young men still controlled the city center, patrolling the area in packs. Many were drunk. Meanwhile, it was difficult to ascertain whether the police were absent or merely keeping a low profile. Stores downtown were closed or boarded up. By evening, Bishkek’s center was empty.

Otunbayeva said on television today that many of the young men were needed to counter any attempts at counter-revolution. In addition, she claimed that two bombs had been defused in the heart of the city.