STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Violent street protestors appear to have succeeded in overthrowing the government of Kyrgyzstan. It's a small, mountainous nation in Central Asia, a one-time Soviet republic and very remote, but it is of vital concern to the United States. That's because Kyrgyzstan is home to an American air base used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan.
As of this morning, Kyrgyzstan's president has been driven out of the capital, and an opposition leader has taken over, saying she will lead an interim government for the next six months. We're going to talk to two reporters who are there, beginning with our own David Greene, who's in the capital, Bishkek.
And David, what is happening on the streets where you are right now?
DAVID GREENE: Hi, Renee. It's certainly a lot calmer here than it was yesterday, when we saw the very violent protests. But still, I'm in a hotel room in the center of the city, and we've been hearing some sporadic gunfire out on the streets, and you can still see buildings that are smoldering. I took a walk earlier. There was the general prosecutor's office, a government building, there was a hotel casino that was still burning down and people sort of wandering around, not at work, not at school, taking photos of the debris with their cameras and, I think, sort of tired. So, still unstable, some unrest, but more calm than we've seen in the last few days.
MONTAGNE: Well, as you said, yesterday, it was very violent. I mean, there were casualties. What's the latest on that?
GREENE: The numbers are differing a little bit, but officially, the Health Ministry says 75 people were killed, and hundreds more wounded. The opposition leaders who were spearheading these protests say that perhaps a hundred people were killed. So, certainly, a lot of blood on the streets. And you can hear the real anger about that today. I was at the presidential headquarters and spoke to some young men who said they were just stunned yesterday when they saw fellow protestors being gunned down. And one reason they're staying out there today is to honor those victims and then to sort of send a message that the streets belong to the people.
MONTAGNE: And now the opposition leader who's taken charge, she was Twittering throughout yesterday's takeover. Any sense of what effect that these tweets were having and are having?
GREENE: It's not clear. It'll certainly interesting to look at that side of the story and talk to people as things go forward as to whether they were getting these tweets. The opposition leader is Roza Otunbayeva, and she was sending a lot of tweets - or at least someone using her Twitter account was sending them. And she wrote things like Bakiyev - who's the president - stop shooting at your own people. You will never be forgiven. And later she said: Power is in the hands of the people's government. Officials have already been appointed and are working to normalize the situation. So she was using Twitter, it would appear, to reassure people. So this has taken revolutions into the modern day, I guess you could say.
MONTAGNE: And the Obama administration must be worried about this, because there is a U.S. base there. It's pretty key to the effort in Afghanistan. What do we know about its future?
GREENE: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting, because that base makes this very small, remote country in Central Asia strategically important to the U.S. Yeah, there's a U.S. airbase here. The U.S. uses it for operations in Afghanistan. There have been different reports as to whether it was still in use during this unrest. The U.S. said that things were going normally. NATO in Afghanistan said that flights actually had to be halted. But then there's the question of the future.
You know, the United States went through a tough fight just a year ago with Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan was threatening to close the base. It seemed that Russia wanted that to happen. The U.S. had to put up a lot more money to keep the base open. And now there are questions about this new opposition government, if a new government comes in. There were rumors that perhaps these opposition leaders might not want to keep the base open out of fear that if there's a conflict with Iran, having a U.S. base on their turf could leave them vulnerable. But we did hear from the opposition leader today, suggesting that the base will remain open for the United States, although she said she has some questions.
MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.
GREENE: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's David Greene, speaking to us from Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek.
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