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Running riot: The opposition storms the presidential palace in Bishkek 

Late morning in Bishkek is as silent as midnight, because the darkness has crackled with gunfire. People will not take to these streets. The looters have been pillaging. The casinos have been shredded, spewing out singed playing cards and snapped roulette boards on to the pavement. The air smells of gunpowder and burnt plastic. The police have disappeared — and with them the law. 

Affluent suburbs have been gutted. Thieves have even stolen the floorboards. The ministries are smouldering. Looters are making off with clumps of wiring yanked from every socket. Supermarkets have been ripped apart. They have carted away everything from the checkout tills to the ceramic tiling. Neon mandarin characters lie cracked on the pavement. The looters tore them off Chinese shop-fronts and stamped them underfoot. The twisted metal cadavers of buses imported from China are beached on the roadside. 

Everything that they say belongs to the family of the fugitive President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is under assault. People are digging up the garden plants from their mansions, chopping his official portrait into tiny pieces, then daubing "Death to Bakiyev" on the walls of their homes. There is a revolution in this remote Central Asian republic. This is a bloodstained and hooliganish affair with no heroes. Leather-jacketed youths are breaking the crockery in a kebab house, tearing apart the outdoor seating area as they make off with the oven. 

Information is absent. Bishkek has fallen back on rumours. Businesses are painting "We are with the people" over their locked grilles and glass-fronts to keep the looters away. "If order is not restored then Russian peacekeepers will come," says a teenage girl sweeping rubble away from her kiosk. More than 80 are dead and 1,000 are wounded. A violent takeover has turned into anarchy. "Stay indoors, they will steal everything they can." There is no romanticism or utopianism. An anti-Semitic placard hangs over the smashed railing of the devastated government headquarters. Vigilantes wrapped in the flag wave down cars and shout orders. Vodka tangs their breath.

Confusion is mixed with cynicism. "There was a revolution that brought Bakiyev to power in 2005, five years later there was one that tore him away, the people have become lawless," says my driver as we round the kerb by the charred wreck that used to be the Prosecutor's office. Every window is shattered. Slices of glass catch the morning light. It is a wasteland of shredded papers, fallen tiles and blackened cabinets. The traffic has forgotten every rule in the Highway Code. Outside the pastel Soviet-baroque front of the Ministry of Health a pin-board affixed with fluttering A4s catalogues the casualties. This is a random sample of their dates of birth: 

1989, 1988, 1993, 1985, 1978, 1990, 1987, 1961, 1984, 1991, 1986.

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