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Opposition makes power grab in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Opposition leaders declared they had seized power in Kyrgyzstan, taking control of security headquarters, a state TV channel and other government buildings after clashes between police and protesters killed dozens in this Central Asian nation that houses a key U.S. air base.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power in a similar popular uprising five years ago, was said to have fled to the southern city of Osh, and it was difficult to gauge how much of the impoverished, mountainous country the opposition controlled Wednesday.

"The security service and the Interior Ministry . . . all of them are already under the management of new people," Rosa Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who the opposition leaders said would head the interim government, told the Russian-language Mir TV channel.

The opposition has called for the closure of the U.S. air base in Manas outside the capital of Bishkek that is a key transit point for supplies essential to the war in nearby Afghanistan.

A senior U.S. military official said Kyrgyzstan officials halted flights for 12 hours yesterday at Manas air base. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the base closed around 8 p.m. local time and was expected to reopen around 8 a.m. today.

Other military officials said the suspension was not expected to affect military operations.

During the day, protesters who were called into the streets by opposition parties stormed government buildings in Bishkek and battled with police amid volleys of tear gas. Groups of elite officers then fired with live ammunition. The Health Ministry said 40 people died and more than 400 were wounded. Opposition activist Toktoim Umetaliyeva said at least 100 people were killed by police gunfire.

Crowds of demonstrators took control of the state TV building and looted it, then marched toward the Interior Ministry, according to Associated Press reporters on the scene, before changing direction and attacking a national security building nearby. They were repelled by security forces loyal to Bakiyev.

After nightfall, an AP reporter saw opposition leader Keneshbek Duishebayev sitting in the office of the chief of the National Security Agency, Kyrgyzstan's successor to the Soviet KGB, issuing orders by phone to people he said were security agents.

Since coming to power in 2005 amid street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability in the country of 5 million people, but the opposition says he has done so at the expense of democratic standards while enriching himself and his family.

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