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Kyrgyzstan unrest: two important facts

Update: Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva said on Thursday she had taken over the government after violent protests forced the president of the Central Asian country to flee the capital.

Two facts are important to keep in mind when watching and reading about the chaos taking place in Kyrgyzstan right now:

1) Although anger with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had been brewing for some time now, and the country is notoriously volatile, no one foresaw this outbreak of violence. Bakiyev until just recently seemed to have sidelined his opposition, which in turn never seemed to miss an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot. Kyrgyzstan just a week ago looked like it was heading down the same authoritarian road as its neighbors.

2) During the so-called Tulip Revolution in 2005, then-President Askar Akayev ceded power and fled the country rather than to give orders to fire on demonstrators.

Why is this important? First, the violence may be far from over. Bakiyev’s whereabouts at the time of this writing are unknown. Some say he has fled to Kazakhstan. If he has, he may be gone for good — or just regrouping.

Even if he has run away, he may be dragged back to the country. The Associated Press is reporting so far that 40 died in the protests today and more than 400 were injured. Bakiyev may not have given the orders to fire — and the opposition, as in the Tulip Revolution, may have actually just staged a coup d’etat — but the bloodlust at this point may be so great that he will ultimately be held accountable for what happened.

Also, even if this is not a great demonstration of the people’s will, it is safe to say that the Bakiyev clan — especially the president’s son Maxim, who reportedly has built a small business empire — is roundly detested. Few people will jump to their defense if they are returned to the country.

Point number one is important to remember because populations in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are angry too. They too are said to be for the most part docile at the moment, and their oppositions weak and ineffective. But energy prices (the cause of the first protests in Talas, Kyrgyzstan) are rising throughout the region, along with the cost for other necessities. The Tulip Revolution begat the Andijon uprising in Uzbekistan. Don’t be surprised if other protests — and crackdowns — erupt across central Asia.

Listen to David L. Stern's interview about Kyrgyzstan with the PBS NewsHour.

Last year, Stern covered Kyrgyzstan's threatened denial of a lease for the United States' Manas air base, a crucial depot for troops and supplies headed to Afghanistan:

How much did Russia know about Manas negotiations?

Manas Air Base: A Pyrrhic victory?

Has Obama put human rights on the back burner?

The US path to Afghanistan now runs through Central Asia

This item was updated to use AP style on the spelling of Bakiyev's name.