Security forces battled hundreds of looters in Kyrgyzstan's capital of Bishkek Thursday night as gunfire and uncertainty reigned over the country following the apparent ousting of the government by opposition protesters.
Police and special forces patrolled the streets, especially near strategic facilities like power plants and the mayor's office, the Interfax news agency reports.
After angry and at times bloody confrontations Wednesday between protestors and government forces that took at least 74 lives, opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva said parliament was dissolved and she would head an interim government that would rule for six months until elections were held.
The situation may remain unstable, however, as President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled the capital and is said to be in hiding in the central Jalal-Abad region, pledged not to cede power to a violent uprising.
Shortly after Bakiyev's vow was aired, darkness fell on the capital and sustained automatic gunfire could be heard from several points in the capital.
Kyrgyzstan is a crucially important United States ally. The U.S. maintains an air base here that is a key supply point for the war in nearby Afghanistan. Although the opposition had earlier called for the U.S. base to be closed, Otunbayeva said today that the base would be allowed to continue its operations.
"Its status quo will remain in place. We still have some questions on it. Give us time and we will listen to all the sides and solve everything," she said at a news conference.
Despite diverting some flights during the unrest, U.S. officials told ABC News that the Manas Air Base Transit Center is up and running and may take in some American families as the security situation is assessed. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek is also functioning, although it was closed to the public.
Presidents Obama and Medvedev Discussed Kyrgyzstan
Russia sent some troops into Kyrgyzstan to protect Russian citizens and an airbase that Russia maintains in the country.
President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the issue before signing an arms treaty in Prague today, U.S. officials told reporters.
Russia urged Kyrgyzstan to end the bloodshed. The U.S. has not said whether it recognizes the new interim government, but called for calm in the volatile Central Asian state.
Thousands of people gathered around Bishkek's central square today where Wednesday's protests peaked. Burned-out cars were scattered around the gates of the presidential administration building, known as the White House.
Tires were still smoldering, filling the air with the stench of burnt rubber as several passers-by tried to see if the car carcasses had any spare parts for the offering.
A large group of men sealed off the grounds of the White House, not letting anyone in, allegedly to prevent further looting. A man passed around a hat asking for money to feed those inside. Down the street closer to the square, several hundred listened to opposition protesters give speeches through a megaphone.
"We are hoping for a better future, we are carefully worrying about what the new temporary government is going to do," said a middle-aged woman handing out white ribbons to symbolize the movement. "Thank God yesterday's uprising is finished and the situation has stabilized. Usually Kyrgyz people are a peaceful people. We have to calm down and start to work."
A short distance away, a burly man condemned the vandalism but said the uprising was inevitable. "What happened was right because people were suffering a lot and they couldn't support the government anymore," he said.
Wednesdays uprising was the latest in a series of demonstrations against the government for corruption and rising utility prices.
Windows of across Bishkek were shattered, big black marks showing where fires had been set. Some stores' shelves lay bare where looters took advantage of the lack of police presence.
400 People Hospitalized in Kyrgyzstan Uprising
The Health Ministry told the Associated Press that the death toll rose to 74, with 400 people hospitalized across the country as protestors attacked local governments and police used live ammunition in an attempt to repel them.
A truck that rammed the gates of the White House had not budged since Wednesday, and people were quick to point out the bullet holes in the truck when defenders in the White House opened fire.
"Security forces were shooting with submachine guns," said one wounded protester being carried away in a stretcher Wednesday. "Why are they shooting at the people?"
Protesters were armed as well, and they injured and killed several police officers. Some protestors even commandeered police vehicles.
"There will be blood for blood," a protestor vowed.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.