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Sergei and I are watching the White House from the sixth floor. A blueish dusk frames the building. There are howls, we can hear the shrieks and then we pull back from the window. The shuddering, unmistakable blast of machine-gun fire. Rounds, what sound like bombs. The night is here and it sounds like Baghdad, alive with anger.

The machine-gun is unnervingly close.

Sergei and I rush downstairs to his first-floor apartment, drawing up escape and contingency plans. What we are going to do if the carnage continues tomorrow or if we come face to face with drunken looters in the coming hours. We switch the television on. For a while opposition activists appear wearing blue scarves proclaiming victory, then suddenly go off air. All Kyrgyz channels are blocked showing just colour-stripped screens. We laugh as we flick the switch to see a mudbike race on a US channel. Bishkek is falling to pieces but elsewhere the flippancy of things goes on.

Sheltering behind a sofa we receive reports that Bakiyev is massing his forces in the south. This chills us. Kyrgyzstan is a cleft nation - starkly divided between a highly Russified industrial and secular north and an agrarian, heavily ethnic Uzbek and devoutly Islamic south. The spectre of civil war stalks the night. We drift in and out of sleep amidst the gunshots, the smell of powder and smoke creeping through the window.

Reports arrive that the White House has fallen and the sounds of fighting dim to be replaced by roaring cheers and hooting cars around the ex-seat of power. Towers of smoke crawl towards the sky and we can make out the sounds of demonstrators' megaphones. The opposition is now claiming to have formed "a temporary government of people's trust". Its men rule the darkness. Bakiyev's forces have slipped away. The army - absent from the day's carnage - is reported to have switched allegiance to the new leaders. The switch of the military is a critical moment in any revolution, as it hands control of the monopoly of armed force to the insurgent. Exhausted and hungry, but kept awake by the occasional sound of a shotgun 30 metres away, Sergei and I wait until the early morning before venturing outside.

A clear bright clear light throws every shattered paving stone and damaged building into sharp relief, highlighting every burn mark on the White House and the glint of the broken glass beneath our feet. We stride towards it. Thousands are still surrounding it on the square and hundreds are drifting inside. Inside the symbol of yesterday's power looters are carrying away everything they can carry or just gawping at the wreckage. Portraits of the former leaders have been ripped off the walls, documents flung on the walls, any breakable surface shattered. Men are lugging away electric parts, computers or souvenirs such as official chairs or letter paper. The building looks as if it has gone through a blender. Men start accosting us only to be pushed off by a so-called "protection force."

"Watch out for the young men here, they're drunk."

We are surrounded by menace and drunken greedy stares. Outside, opposition megaphones are announcing they are in control of the city. "We are victorious."

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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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