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But the US base here is no ordinary outpost. The airfield at Manas is critical for the war effort against the Taliban, with an estimated 40,000 troops transiting a month. The mountains are so steep in the north of Afghanistan that transport planes need to land to refuel before heading westwards. This is why Nato needs a base in Kyrgyzstan and why it has been backing the Bakiyev regime. Right now all this hangs in the balance.

"Storm the palace. Charge!"

Protesters are driving more trucks towards the White House. The mob roars, whistles its acclaim as thousands throng the covered walkways of the square, camera-phones filming. Hundreds are walking forwards, filing in from the side streets. Suddenly everyone screams, louder and louder. They have started shooting again. Throngs are rushing for cover, trying to find somewhere, anywhere. Somewhere in that crowd I am running too. Masonry is being smashed by exploding stun guns and gas canisters. The crowd is spluttering. Pushing, pulling, I am part of a group shoving its way into a basement for shelter.

"What's going on?"

"Are those rubber rounds?"

"They're real rounds!"

"This is revolution...!"

We are huddling and then ducking as the shooting crackles beyond. Then it stops and I push outside. Masked men are smashing up cars. A throng is pushing forward, holding a wounded man aloft by his arms and legs. He is bleeding profusely from his stomach. I think he is dead. A car swerves forward and the body is loaded onboard. The gutter he was hoisted over is filled with litres of thick blood. I am staring at this blood when shooting comes from behind me. An official car is trying to force its way through a mob that is smacking it, trying to puncture the glass and capture those inside. They force a hole through the back window but the car accelerates, hitting over 100 miles an hour straight down the main street. It doesn't care if it hits anybody now. The driver has nothing to lose.

"They are killing!"

Presidential riot police are firing in the air. These gunshots could be live or rubber but I am taking no chances. I am running again through a park to the side of the main boulevard beside the square. Out of breath, I arrive by a locked-up nightclub called Fashion Bar. Those who work there are standing around, watching the situation from afar.

"Do you think Bakiyev will fall?"

"These people are peasants shipped in from the countryside!"

Watching a historical event unfold is being part of a state of mass total confusion. Then shots are fired again. Men are filing towards the square. People have started drinking and nearby they have started to loot. Aggressive thugs are bellowing with rage as they rush towards the square. This is not a velvet revolution. This is coarse and violent peasant power. A canister of tear gas explodes nearby. Choking again, running again, I find myself outside the Russian Theatre. People are milling around a luxury bar to my right.

"Please let me in."

The night before I had a gin and tonic in this elite spot, but as I walked in it was unrecognisable. The staff had blockaded the glass wall windows with the furniture and were milling around nervously. The lounge music had been switched off and they were drinking French wine from the drinks cabinet. Some were scoffing treats from the kitchen. A social order is dependent on a political structure. But the anarchy outside had turned Bishkek and this bar on its head.

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Gabriel Rom
April 12th, 2010
5:04 AM
Ben, your work is absolutely astounding. You are bar-none providing the most human, relatable, and yet horror-inducing writing on the events in Kyrgyzstan.. This work is as detailed and informative as it is beautiful and emotive. Thank you for providing the world with this much needed piece of writing. Your humble admirer, Gabriel Rom

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