Opposition Seizes Power in Tajikistan : Central Asia: Mystery over the ousted president's whereabouts clouds the new coalition's victory.


Forming a Revolutionary Council, a coalition of democrats and Muslim activists declared Thursday that power in this Central Asian republic has passed into their hands, and supporters by the thousands shouted, "God is great!"

The whereabouts of Rakhman Nabiyev, a former Communist hard-liner elected president last fall, were unknown.

According to a news bulletin from the opposition-controlled TV center, Nabiyev had issued a series of decrees in the afternoon, including one transferring the republic's security police and recently formed military formations from direct presidential control to the Cabinet of Ministers.

A protocol of agreement was also reportedly signed by government leaders and the opposition at Nabiyev's summer palace, which provided for the urgent formation of a government of "national accord" with broad powers.

But the situation suddenly became muddled when opposition leaders announced that because the Cabinet of Ministers had been paralyzed by the republic's political turmoil, they were assuming power in the guise of a newly formed Revolutionary Council.

Tajik Radio said the council had taken over the Parliament as well as the radio station itself, which had been in the hands of pro-Nabiyev forces. Amid chants of "Allahu akbar!"-- God is great--thousands of bearded Tajiks, many wearing traditional skullcaps and robes, gathered for a triumphal rally in Shakhidon Square, which, like virtually all strategic locations in Dushanbe, has come under opposition control in the last two days.

Neither police nor regular army units were in sight as groups of armed men--some with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, others with homemade wooden clubs--manned roadblocks throughout the center of the city.

Sporadic gunfire persisted until dusk, when the opposition alliance finally managed to clear pro-government snipers from the downtown area.

A day of mourning was declared for today in honor of the Tajiks killed in the political unrest. Casualty reports ranged from four to 60, with officials at last report confirming only three deaths.

People were given until noon Sunday to surrender their firearms.

Despite the clear signs of an opposition victory, a scent of light-hearted anarchy prevailed in the absence of the clearly defined successor regime and the ongoing mystery over Nabiyev's whereabouts.

There were reports that Nabiyev had fled the country by air after taking refuge in the Parliament building with hundreds of armed supporters Wednesday. But Deputy Premier Khabibulo Saidmurodov, quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, denied the reports and said the president was now at his summer palace.

As part of the deal crafted at the palace between the opposition and the Tajik government, Vice President Narzullo Dustov, Defense Committee Chairman Farrukh Niyazov and State Broadcasting Chief Atakhon Saifullev were forced to resign. A special parliamentary session was convened to fire the parliamentary chairman, Safarali Kendzhiyev, and the republic's prosecutor general.

Other decrees issued under Nabiyev's name lifted the curfew and state of emergency that he had declared Tuesday night and liquidated special police units that had been the backbone of his conservative regime.

Reminders of the Central Asian republic's Islamic roots resounded through Shakhidon Square as the crowd chanted "Jihad!" (holy war) in unison. Several speakers also gave thanks to God for having granted victory to the moujahedeen , or Muslim holy warriors, in neighboring Afghanistan, where Tajiks constitute the second-largest ethnic group.

As the evening wore on, leaders of the progressive and Muslim coalition remained locked in a session at the city's main mosque. An announcement is expected today on whether the council intends to form its own government immediately or will craft a temporary power-sharing arrangement that would include some officials from Nabiyev's regime.

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