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The thick-set Russian bouncer tried to make sense of it all. "They are drunks outside, smashing it all up, but Bakiyev and his boys had it coming." The skinny Uzbek barman was raiding the Ice Tea, peach flavour, but still had time to muse. "They are saying that Bakiyev might be in the US base outside the city. They are saying Russia has a hand in this. All the superpowers want a piece of us." Some of the boys were keeping guarding outside. The sound of AK-47s, thunderous explosions and whistle of stun guns was the music of chaos. "This could go on for days, and they are already looting the malls and the supermarkets," squealed a youngish man in a baseball cap.

Trapped inside a historical event - those that experience it have very little idea what is going on. "The White House has fallen," shouted an elegant music promoter who was holed up here too, but others shouted back, "The text messages I'm getting say no." The boys tried to switch on the television, but state TV had gone blank, showing only a sentimental painting of a snowy mountain, as mute as the city was chaotic.

"We are going to the square. We must join our brothers." A fat man had polished off some Chablis and suddenly turned courageous. He was met by unenthused faces.

The leafy streets beyond the bar had turned quiet. It was around 4pm. I returned to the square. All rules of decent driving had collapsed. Cars were speeding, driving the wrong way down roads or parking on the pavements. Drunken peasants harassed me as I strode forth, heart beating, trying not to show tension. "We will fight on!"

The whistling again. Jeers and howls of anger. The animal sounds of men that have ceased to be individuals and become a mob.  The crowd is baying as I join the thousands on the main square. The air simmers with electricity, anger and the unexpected. Yesterday central Bishkek was the balmy heart of a subdued authoritarian state, but I am standing in a zone with no rules where nothing is certain. Plumes of black and white smoke are rising from trucks that have been set ablaze around the White House. More vehicles are hurtling towards the lines of riot police that ring Bakiyev headquarters.  There is a crackling sound in the distance.

"That's AK-47s firing!"

Rain is falling. The sun is setting and this drably clothed mass is moving towards the angel statue commemorating breaking away from the USSR. Catcalling with glee, the crowds are hailing one of their leaders, the opposition figure Temur Sariyev.  They holding him aloft as he gestures to them. There is a smile on his face and he is dressed for the occasion, in a dark suit and bright yellow tie.  As thousands call out his name does he imagine himself a Lenin or a George Washington? He is waving his fist. Nobody in Bishkek has time for such reflections at this hour. Everyone is caught up in the total movement of the now. Trying not to make eye contact, I push towards the edge of the White House, overhearing the rumours and the curses around me.

"There are snipers everywhere."

"Around 30 people are dead."

"Other cities have fallen."

I am standing next to a pool of crimson blood, dappled by drain water and mud. Crowds are pushing forward. Just a few days ago most would have been afraid to criticize Bakiyev in public, let alone gather to make political demands. We are entering that critical phase that determines whether the insurrection will become a revolution. Have people lost their fear or will a spraying of bullets into the crowd make them take to their heels? Because once they have stop being afraid they will stop at nothing.

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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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