By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief with reporting from Kyrgyzstan
BISHKEK/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)– Christians in Kyrgyzstan continued praying and caring for injured survivors of their Central Asian nation's bloody uprising that killed at least 84 people, as gunfire interrupted a rally Thursday, April 15, of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, witnesses and Christians said.
Gunfire crackled out seconds after Bakiyev began speaking to the crowd of about 5,000 in Osh, the largest city in the southern region that is his support base, reporters said.
The president was reportedly uninjured and was returning to his home in the village of Teyit, about a two-hour drive from the rally site.
It came as churches and Christians, who have complained of persecution under the president's leadership, continued to visit hospitals and prayer vigils, Christian aid workers said.
They are "caring for the wounded, assisting with cleaning the streets and helping to restore damaged public buildings," explained Barnabas Fund, a Christian aid and advocacy group.
DAYS OF PRAYER
"They also organised four days of prayer and fasting for their country, from 9 to 12 April. This week, three churches each day are fasting in response to the situation."
The action followed anti-government protests April 7 when security forces of the deposed president were seen opening fire at demonstrators. Protests broke out amid public anger over Bakiyev's perceived autocratic style, high lever corruption, price hikes of fuel and other economic difficulties.
Impoverished Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union and under Communist rule for decades, but gained independence when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
The church in Kyrgyzstan is small but growing, despite reports of persecution in the mainly Islamic nation of over five million people, where Christians comprise roughly 10 percent of the population, Barnabas Fund said. "Christians, especially those who have converted from Islam, face severe pressure and threats from family and local communities, particularly in the south."
Forum 18, another rights group investigating reports of religious rights violations, said that under the Bakiyev limitations on "fundamental" religious freed increased "in both law and practice".
"HARSH NEW LAW"
It cited a "harsh new Religion Law was adopted in 2009," despite international protests, "and a similarly harsh new Law on Religious Education and Educational Institutions" being drafted as examples.
Christians have also complained of violence directed against them.
U.S. officials have also expressed concerns about Islamist militants in the country, a strategically located nation near Afghanistan. The uncertainty over President Bakiyev's position has disrupted flights out of the Kyrgyz air base which the United States rents to support the war in Afghanistan.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has even warned that the impoverished Central Asian country may be on the brink of civil war. Interim leader Roza Otunbaeva has already said she fears the defiant president will in her words "unleash further bloodshed", should forces now loyal to her government move against him.
After an ultimatum for the president to surrender passed Tuesday, April 13, she has proposed him, to resign and "safely leave" the troubled nation.
BAKIYEV DEMANDS SECURITY
Bakiyev has demanded security guarantees for himself, his family and other officials after the interim government said it would prosecute him over the killings of scores of anti-government protesters.
The United States has been criticized for supporting the deposed president in the past, but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake told reporters Washington wanted to work with the interim government, especially on this issues of human rights and democracy. "A very part of making progress on bilateral relations is making progress on human rights."
He spoke with Kyrgyz officials and also laid a wreath near the government building in the capital Bishkek, to remember those who died last week in in anti-government protests.