Kyrgyzstan's ex-president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was deposed in a street revolt two weeks ago, has taken refuge in the dictatorship of Belarus, while the country's interim leaders are trying to control a wave of ethnic unrest touched off by his ouster.
Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva on Wednesday gave orders for security officers to use "deadly force" on a wave of rioting and looting that has threatened her fledgling government's grip on power. That followed an appeal from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who on Tuesday expressed "deep concern" for the safety of ethnic Russians, who have been the victims of targeted attacks and illegal property seizures in recent days.
Speaking from Minsk, Belarus, Mr. Bakiyev continued to insist he was Kyrgyzstan's legitimate president, even as a spokesman for the interim government in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, insisted to CNN that Bakiyev had formally resigned under pressure from the US, Russia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Kazakhstan.
Bakiyev and his family turned up Tuesday in Minsk, where they will reportedly remain as the personal guests of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko – a man whose oddball authoritarian regime near Europe's geographical center is an embarrassment even to its sole ally, the Kremlin.
"Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his family are in Minsk under the protection of our state and me personally," Mr. Lukashenko told journalists. "I ordered appropriate services of my administration to organize Bakiyev's transfer to Belarus."
Bakiyev, who resigned and fled Kyrgyzstan last week, is wanted for allegedly ordering riot police to open fire on protesters during the April 7 uprising, causing the deaths of at least 85 people.
The head of the interim government, Ms. Otunbayeva, slammed Lukashenko's decision to take Bakiyev in.
"Kyrgyzstan's people may not react positively to Belarus taking in such a man that has the lives of many people on his conscience," Otumbayeva told journalists. "Anyone who suffered at his hands will think there should be no refuge anywhere in the world for this sadist. . . This criminal must be handed over back to our country."
Many analysts say the Kremlin, which gave at least tacit backing to Bakiyev's overthrow, probably acquiesced in his escape to Belarus.
"No matter how Lukashenko tries to describe this as an independent move of his own, it is absolutely clear that without [Kazakh president Nursultan] Nazarbayev and Medvedev' s consent, it wouldn't have happened," says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.
In his rambling press conference Tuesday night, Lukashenko depicted Bakiyev's escape from temporary exile in Kazakhstan as if it were a daring escapade carried out by Belarus's KGB spy service – he called them "my eagles" – who plucked the ex-Kyrgyz president and his family from imprisonment and lofted them away to safety in Minsk.
"I doubt this tale very much," says Mr. Zharikhin. "To imagine Lukashenko's 'eagles' acting on their own, secretly entering Kazakhstan and then crossing Russian territory somehow against the will of Medvedev, is out of the question. This is not a James Bond story; it sounds more like the Pink Panther."
Lukashenko's motives for taking in Bakiyev are probably a case of dictator solidarity.
"By giving refuge to Bakiyev, who is wanted for killing and wounding many people, Lukashenko effectively takes the responsibility for these crimes on himself," says Andrei Suzdaltsev, a political expert with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow . "He wants to demonstrate that, as a legitimate president, Bakiyev had the right to kill. This is a serious challenge."
Lukashenko, who was democratically elected in 1994 but has allegedly rigged every subsequent vote in his own favor, may see obvious parallels between himself and Bakiyev, experts say.
Bakiyev was fairly elected in 2005 on a wave of pro-reform hopes following the "Tulip Revolution." But international monitors decried last year's presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, which saw Bakiyev re-elected with a Soviet-style 76 percent of the vote.
"Lukashenko likes to show that's he's a very unique person, but his decision to take in Bakiyev isn't particularly complicated," says Alexei Vlasov, an expert with Moscow State University. "He regards Bakiyev as the legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan, whether he was overthrown or not. And that's that."