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Politics

Kyrgyz opposition factions grab for power as government topples

Longtime ally Russia voices concern over chaos in nation bordering China

People attend a rally following post-election protests during which opposition groups took control of most of the government's apparatus, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on October 7.   © Reuters

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan slid deeper into chaos as rival opposition factions made grabs for power on Wednesday, a day after they stormed government buildings, forcing the prime minister to quit and a parliamentary election to be annulled.

Left isolated by the resignation of Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov's government late on Tuesday, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov called for all party talks in a statement on Wednesday, reiterating his willingness to mediate.

Two presidents have been overthrown in Kyrgyzstan in the past 15 years, and longtime ally Russia expressed concern as protests spread across the country in the wake of Sunday's vote.

Kyrgyzstan borders China and hosts both a Russian military airbase and a large Canadian-owned gold mining operation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday Moscow was in touch with all the sides in the conflict and hoped that democratic process would be restored soon. China's foreign ministry said it was highly concerned about the situation.

A total of 16 parties took part in Sunday's election and 11 refused to accept the results, which had handed victory two establishment groups. As protests grew, the election commission annulled the vote.

At least three distinct groups have now attempted to claim leadership. The first was the Coordination Council set up on Tuesday and largely made up of established political parties opposing Jeenbekov.

Another group which called itself People's Coordination Council emerged on Wednesday and united five lesser-known opposition parties whose leaders have not held any senior government positions.

Finally, the Ata Zhurt political party has attempted to outmanoeuvre competitors by getting parliament to nominate its candidate Sadyr Zhaparov - freed from prison by protesters just hours earlier - for prime minister on Tuesday night.

However, an angry mob then broke into the hotel where parliament convened, forcing Zhaparov to flee through a back door, according to Kyrgyz media. It was not clear when parliament might convene again to confirm him as premier.

Making a late night appearance on television, Zhaparov said he would propose a constitutional reform before holding presidential and parliamentary elections in two to three months.

While opposition parties have made rival claims to power, the establishment parties that claimed initial victory in the election have largely kept quiet, accepting the decision to annul the vote. Jeenbekov has told his supporters not to confront the protesters to avoid escalation.

But the split among opposition parties and power grabs by competing factions have plunged the nation of 6.5 million people into uncertainty. Kyrgyz security forces appeared to avoid siding with any of the factions although their support could eventually help decide the winner.

Residents in the capital, Bishkek, quickly formed vigilante neighbourhood watch units to reinforce police, having suffered during violent revolts followed by looting in 2005 and 2010.

There were scuffles overnight between vigilantes and protesters who tried to force their way into government buildings or attacked businesses such as shops and restaurants, according to a report by local news website 24.kg.

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