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Kyrgyzstan buries its dead

From Ben Wedeman, CNN
  • "Everyone just wanted justice," says brother of one man who was buried Sunday
  • Anti-government riots claimed the lives of 76 people, forced country's president to flee
  • It is believed president's brother gave orders to open fire on demonstrators
  • Opposition leaders had accused president of keeping power in hands of friends, relatives

OUTSIDE BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (CNN) -- Sagunbayec Aitbek was laid to rest Saturday, his body draped in a red-and-yellow Kyrgyz flag.

The 25-year-old whose life was cut short by a sniper's bullet was among 15 men buried outside the capital, Bishkek, in an emotional ceremony attended by thousands.

Each had been killed earlier in the week during anti-government riots that left 76 people dead and forced the country's president to flee.

"He wanted justice in the country," said Aitbek's brother, Aitur. "Everyone just wanted justice."

As the names of the dead were read, Aitbek's widow wiped away tears and clutched tightly to her 1-year-old son. She now has to raise him without a father.

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The protests began Tuesday in the northern city of Talas. They were sparked by increases in electricity and fuel rates, which had gone up at the first of the year as President Kurmanbek Bakiev's government sold public utilities to companies controlled by his friends.

Demonstrations spread to the capital Wednesday after the government arrested opposition leaders in Talas.

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Video: Kyrgyz mourn their dead
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The fighting that followed killed 76 people and wounded hundreds.

Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who has declared herself the country's interim leader, said the deposed government will be held responsible for the bloodshed.

"They became the enemies of the people when they opened fire on the patriots, the best sons of the nation," she said at the ceremony. The interim government brought criminal charges against the two sons of Bakiev, as well as his brother, who used to be the chief of security.

It is believed the president's brother gave orders to open fire on the demonstrators, said acting Prosecutor-General Baytemir Ibrayev.

Opposition leaders had accused Bakiev of consolidating power by keeping key economic and security posts in the hands of relatives or close associates.

"We will do our best to install a just power in Kyrgyzstan," Otunbayeva said.

Rumors that Bakiev has been captured are untrue, Edil Baisalov, senior adviser to Otunbayeva, told CNN on Sunday. Bakiev remains in southern Kyrgyzstan, moving constantly, he said.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, houses the Manas Transit Center that forms an important link in the supply line for United States and NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official told CNN that the turmoil had interrupted flights into and out of that facility.

A U.S. military spokesman, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the security situation there, said Saturday about 1,300 U.S. troops are stuck at Manas.

The spokesman said it's not known when the airfield will reopen and it is not yet certain how the troops will be moved out of there.

Back at the burial ceremony, somber-faced men walked quietly holding photos of the departed. The women dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs.

A distraught mother sobbed inconsolably.

"I don't want to live anymore," she screamed. "Why did they kill you, my son?"

It is a question many here are asking.