Kyrgyzstan: Coup in a U.S.-Allied Country?

Protests in Kyrgyzstan today were massive and frenzied. By the end of day, some reports said they had brought down the government of a crucially important U.S. ally.

The United States maintains an air base in Kyrgyzstan that is a key supply point for the war in nearby Afghanistan. President Obama's support for the now-ousted government long has angered the opposition.

This morning, when thousands of opposition protestors attacked the president of Kyrgyzstan's office, police used live ammunition to repel them. Hospitals filled quickly with the dead and wounded.

"Security forces were shooting with submachine guns," said one wounded protester being carried away in a stretcher. "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.

Tensions have been growing in Kyrgyzstan over what opposition supporters called increasingly repressive government policies. Arrests of opposition leaders overnight -- plus a 200 percent increase in utility prices -- sparked a violent backlash.

By this afternoon, the opposition had taken over television stations and began demanding that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev step down. He reportedly fled the capital in his jet tonight.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country of five million people in Central Asia, is one of the poorest former Soviet republics, and has long been plagued by corruption and political division.

The United States has a "transit center" located at Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan, about 19 miles northwest of the capital of Bishkek. It is a major hub for the transit of personnel and equipment into Afghanistan. There are about 1,100 U.S., French and Spanish personnel located at the facility, with the overwhelming majority of them being American.

State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said today that the base was "functioning normally." But, a Defense official said there was a temporary re-routing of some incoming aircraft.

Tonight, the future of the U.S. base -- and the country -- is in doubt.

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