Kyrgyz parliamentarians took further steps March 26 to erase the remnants of ousted President Askar Akayev's rule as they set 26 June as the date for new presidential polls.
Lawmaker Iskhak Masaliev announced the decision to reporters immediately after the voting by members of the outgoing, bicameral Kyrgyz parliament.
"It has been decided to hold [early presidential] elections on June 26," he said. "The presidential elections will be held on June 26 of this year. This is exact, exact."
Parliamentarians reached the agreement in the presence of Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was named interim leader to succeed ousted President Askar Akaev. Bakiev announced that he will run in the June presidential poll.
Akaev reportedly fled the country after protesters stormed the government headquarters in Bishkek on 24 March. His whereabouts remain unknown.
Akaev Issues Statement
Akaev reportedly issued a statement March 25 in which he condemned what he described as an "anticonstitutional coup" staged by his opponents. He said he remains Kyrgyzstan's legitimate leader.
The authenticity of the letter, carried by many news agencies, could not be immediately verified.
Speaking to reporters, Bakiev said he doubts Akaev was the author of the statement.
"I don't think it is his statement," Bakiev said. "I don't think so. I know he is a very intelligent person, and it is unlikely that he could have written such a statement. Most probably, someone else prepared that statement on his behalf."
Some opposition leaders insist Akaev must return to Kyrgyzstan and tell the nation that he is stepping down.
Bakiev said his interim government will not ask for Akaev's extradition, but would welcome his voluntary return.
"This is not how I envisage things, neither how parliament envisaged them," Bakiev said. "If Mr. Akaev decides to come here -- or rather, come back -- he has the right to do so. Kyrgyzstan is his homeland. He has absolutely the right to live here. It's his prerogative."
Akaev Supporters Rally
Kyrgyz media said on March 26 that hundreds of Akaev supporters had rallied in Kemin, a village some 150 kilometers from Bishkek, to express solidarity with the ousted leader. The demonstrators then reportedly started marching toward the capital.
In sharp contrast with the two consecutive nights of unrest, the Kyrgyz capital now appears calm. Citizens are back on the streets, and most cafes in the city center have reopened.
Also, policemen backed up by Interior Ministry cadets and unarmed militiamen started reappearing near official buildings.
Kyrgyzstan's AKI press news agency quoted health officials on March 26 as saying one person was killed and 18 others injured during overnight looting.
Bakiev says the situation is slowly returning to normal.
"Last night [March 25], compared to the previous one, was more or less stable," he said. "After what happened [on the night of March 24], our law enforcement agencies have -- I believe -- started pulling themselves together and somehow started fulfilling their duties."
But the situation in Bishkek remains tense underneath its apparent calm. On March 26, protesters attempted to force their way into the White House -- as the government headquarters is known in Bishkek -- in a bid to meet Bakiev.
They demanded that the mandates of all deputies elected in the two disputed rounds of legislative elections on 27 February and 13 March be declared illegitimate.
It is controversy surrounding those polls that sparked the wave of street protests that culminated in the upheaval.
The mandate of the old legislature officially expires on April 14. But a decision was reached on March 26 to extend it until the 26 June presidential polls.
Deciding Fate Of Parliament
As for the newly elected parliament, Bakiev said its fate will be decided within the next two weeks.
Former opposition leaders now in power have suggested that a new parliamentary election will be held some time after the presidential poll.
Talking to reporters after the March 26 parliamentary session, upper chamber member Valeri Dil said he believes the question of who should be mandated to represent voters must be solved urgently.
"You saw the people on [Alatoo] square? You saw how yesterday they tried to storm the White House [for the second time]," he said. "They demand one thing -- that the results of the recent [legislative] elections be nullified. However, you understand that we live in a legal field. In my opinion, it would be wise now for the [old] parliament to set a date for presidential polls and then, within the next three months as envisaged by the constitution, to organize new parliamentary elections. That would help us get out of the present situation."