[JURIST] Anti-government protesters in Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday set fire to the prosecutor-general's office amid violent demonstrations that have led to the death of the interior minister, the arrest of several opposition leaders, and the deaths of dozens of protesters. The protests against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile], which appear prompted [NYT report] in part by a drastic increase in utility costs, began late Tuesday night in the city Talas then spread throughout the country Wednesday. Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev was killed [AFP report] during an attack by protesters in Talas. Former prime minister and presidential candidate Almazbek Atambayev and former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev were among the many opposition leaders arrested [AFP report] as a result of the protests. Bakiyev has declared a state of emergency throughout the country, urging citizens to remain indoors. The protesters have also taken control [Reuters report] of the country's television station, and approximately a thousand people surrounded the prosecutor-general's office, reportedly setting it on fire. Reports vary as to the number of citizens that have been killed during the protests, with news organizations reporting as many as 50. Kyrgyz police used bullets and tear gas to protect the presidential office in Bishkek.
The protests come a week after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called on Kyrgyzstan to protect all forms of human rights [JURIST report], including "free speech and freedom of the media." The statements follow recent events [RIA Novosti report] in the country that include the shutdown of an opposition newspaper, a police raid on a local television station that resulted in the station being taken off the air, and the confiscation of computers from a video web portal based on allegations of pirated software use. Opposition members gathered in support [RFE/RL report] of Ban's comments. Kyrgyzstan was once hailed as a model for democracy in the Central Asian countries that made up the former Soviet Union. It is believed that much of the media pressure [AP report] is the result of the election of Bakiyev following the Tulip revolution that removed Askar Akayev from power in 2005. Last year, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] criticized Kyrgyzstan over its treatment of journalists in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials; JURIST report].
3:00 PM ET - Kyrgyz opposition leaders claim to have taken power [Reuters report], having forced the government to resign.