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Kyrgyz president accused of looting state's coffers

From Maxim Tkachenko, CNN
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Looters burn market in Kyrgyzstan
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chief of staff of interim government accuses president of raiding state coffers
  • Death toll from riots rises to 76; president's brother, 2 sons, Bishkek mayor charged
  • Government declares Friday, Saturday days of mourning as vigilante groups form
  • At least 60 people injured in clashes Thursday night, Health Ministry says

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (CNN) -- The chief of staff of the interim Kyrgyz government, which took over after President Kurmanbek Bakiev fled the capital, accused the president Friday of stealing the country's money when he left.

"The state coffers are almost empty," Edil Baisalov told CNN. "Some funds have been transferred somewhere, which is why we've frozen the banking system, because we are anxious that the banks controlled by the former President Bakiev might take the funds out of the country."

Baisalov said all that's left in the country's bank accounts is the equivalent of 16 million euros ($21.5 million).

Government officials in Kyrgyzstan had earlier declared Friday and Saturday days of mourning as relatives began burying victims of anti-government riots that killed 76 and forced the president to flee the capital.

At the same time, criminal charges were brought against Bakiev's two sons, as well as his brother, who used to be the chief of security, acting Prosecutor-General Baytemir Ibrayev said.

It is believed the president's brother gave orders to open fire on the demonstrators, he said.

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Criminal charges also have been brought against the mayor of Bishkek, Ibrayev said. More details about the charges weren't immediately clear.

Overnight, hundreds of men joined vigilante groups to help fight looters in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. At least 60 people were injured in the clashes overnight Thursday, none of them seriously, the Health Ministry said.

Another 520 people have been hospitalized since the protests started Tuesday, officials said.

Sporadic bursts of machine-gun fire and police sirens rang out through the night Thursday. It was not immediately clear where the shooting was, but police said looting remained a challenge.

Local health authorities reported Friday that the death toll from the riots had increased by one, to 76, because a person in critical condition died.

Bakiev, who fled to his stronghold in the south of the country, said he was not giving up power despite claims by a former foreign minister that she was in charge.

"Realizing my responsibilities as president of the Kyrgyz republic, I am confident the country where the government comes to power through blood can lose its statehood," Bakiev said in a statement posted on 24.kg, a well known Kyrgyz Web site.

"I am urging the instigators of the riots to think again. I am stating that, as president, I did not abandon my duties, and I am not abandoning my duties. Irresponsible actions of the opposition could only cause more escalation of tensions."

Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva declared herself the country's interim leader Thursday and said the opposition had taken over the reins of government and driven Bakiev from office. Otunbayeva said at a news conference that the former president was in the south of the country with his entourage.

Opposition leaders had accused Bakiev of consolidating power by keeping key economic and security posts in the hands of relatives or close associates.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a special envoy to Kyrgyzstan, who met Friday with interim Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Aytmurzaev to talk about ways to restore stability, the OSCE said.

The envoy, Zhanybek Karibzhanov, said he was discussing "the situation on the ground, how public safety, stability and respect for citizens' rights can be urgently restored and ensured, and how we in the OSCE can contribute to the process."

The OSCE and United Nations have expressed concern about the situation in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country on China's far western border.

The protests began Tuesday in the northern city of Talas. They were sparked by increases in electricity and fuel rates, which had gone up at the first of the year as Bakiev's government sold public utilities to companies controlled by his friends.

Demonstrations spread to the capital Wednesday after the government arrested opposition leaders in Talas.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, houses the Manas Transit Center that forms an important link in the supply line for United States and NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan.

The new government denied reports that it was planning to shut down the air base, but said it intends to review the issue. In Washington, a senior Pentagon official told CNN that the turmoil had interrupted flights into and out of that facility.

Normal flight operations resumed Friday afternoon, but by the evening, military passenger transport flights were temporarily diverted, said Maj. John Redfield, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. He didn't say when the flights would resume.

"Decisions on conducting other, non-passenger-related flight operations from the base will be made on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Some U.S. Embassy personnel and their families were temporarily relocated to Manas, the U.S. Department of State announced Friday. The department advised U.S. citizens in the country to avoid large gatherings and stay indoors. Those who cannot find safe shelter should contact the embassy, the department said.

The United States has closed its embassy in Bishkek, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

"We have concerns about the situation on the ground," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday.

Crowley said the United States is not taking sides.

"Our interest here is with the people of Kyrgyzstan and a peaceful resolution of the situation," Crowley said.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.