I spoke today with American journalist D. Dalton Bennett, who has been living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan working with the non-profit journalism organization, Sons of Hedin. He was in the thick of things when police and special forces began shooting at demonstrators in downtown Bishkek, and he described his experience.
He went out that morning to attend what was intended to be a press conference. When that went badly, the protesters began heading back to the city center.
People marched into the city, when they marched into the city, they were met by Interior Security forces that were much better trained that the . . . .police. At the same time, more and more protesters showed up. . . . There was tear gas and water cannons everywhere.
After the people secured the square, they immediately went to the White House, which is a huge symbolic act, politically. . . . They immediately chose the president's building. . . . There were signs outside in Russian and Kyrgyz that said, "We will use live ammunition if you come over the fence."
[A protester] drove a military transport into the fence . . . about 3:30 a huge group of people were outside of the fence, and all of the sudden you just heard this "pop, pop, pop, pop" noise. . . . And at first everyone thought it was just rubber bullets. And it was clear that some were rubber bullets, but they had mixed live ammunition in."
I looked over to my right and there was a young man . . . he lifted his hands up to the sky, and you could see a straight hole through his wrist.
He ran to the Bishtek Cardiac Hospital, and was the only foreign journalist there. He witnessed demonstrators carrying the wounded and dead into the hospital.
One man had been shot in the back of his head. He had a tie on and nice shoes. He was an older man, and he was dead on arrival.
The head of the hospital refused to confirm the number of dead. The nurses were "frozen" with fear.
It was total chaos.
Eventually, the mob had turned on the police and began even hunting down police snipers on the rooftops.
[The police] were shooting from the rooftops. By this point there was four thousand-plus people . . . and they fought by the police. . . . [I]t turned into a mob. . . . They were just scaling these buildings looking for . . . snipers.
I fell on the ground, totally covered in mud, but just glad to be alive.
As for the whether the protesters have taken over the government:
I don't know how much government is left to take over. . . . There are just men running wild. . . . They're just angry. . . . At the moment nobody really seems to be in power.
I think it's a product of the profound violence . . . how quickly things turned deadly.
There's current reports that anywhere from five to fifty thousand individuals . . . from the southern region . . . who are supporters [of the president] . . . are coming to Bishkek.
Police are actually chasing after looters, and preventing looters from breaking into buildings and damaging some private property. But the only authority I see left is men with guns. . . . Less than twenty minutes I heard gunshots and some type of explosion outside my window. . . .They're military that have guns; police here that have guns. . . . It's isolated. Very isolated. But there are protesters . . . that have commandeered weapons that are using them.
If it turns out that these people are coming from the south, that would be a nightmare. But if for some reason opposition is able to gather and muster up enough strength and are able to take charge, we could see a new government form here in Kyrgyzstan. But it's too soon. . . . It could go so many ways. . . . The only thing that matters is somebody has to control these crowds. There's blood on the streets. Somebody has to control these crowds.
When asked about how he was personally treated, Bennett notes that the vast majority of people have been supportive, in part because of their general goodwill and in part because they want their story told.
I got kicked and punched by one person, but right after he did that, all the guys around him said, "Hey, don't do that, he's an American journalist."
"The Daily Briefing with Ian Masters" is a Pacifica Radio Network production from KPFK-FM Los Angeles. Ian Masters can be heard at 5 PM Monday through Thursday and at 11 AM on Sundays at www.kpfk.org.