You are here:   Dispatches > Bishkek: Downfall of a Dictator
 

Three armour-plated trucks lead the way. Dozens of men have clambered aboard. They are shrieking with excitement, banging the iron surfaces with sticks and fists. A leather-jacketed thug is waving the national flag, roaring, his eyes fixed ahead, drugged by the audacity of insurrection. A man in a gas-mask waves an AK-47. 

The armoured trucks have been commandeered from riot police dispatched to quell the unrest when it was on the outskirts. They were overwhelmed by the mob, which is now carrying their metal shields and waving their batons. There can be no turning back now — to retreat would send the spectators fleeing and invite the army to bet on the regime again. Society is dissolving. People are rushing to the central square to see their political future decided. The avenues belong to the rioters. 

"Storm the White House!" 

The armoured personnel carriers are accelerating towards the railings of the seat of power. Rumours swirl that Russia is funding the demonstrations. The crowd erupts and applauds with the sudden overwhelming roar of a rainstorm. The trucks have pushed through the railings. I am 20 metres away. I can see a line of armed police standing to attention. For a split second they seem to do nothing. Then the shooting and the screaming start. Are those live or blank? You cannot tell. I am running because the crowd is running, what one man does a dozen thoughtlessly follow. The live rounds start. A stampede rushes along the edge of the square. A wounded man is being hauled by his hands and feet into a passing car. I am trying to catch my breath behind a street corner. There is blood in the gutter. 

"They are shooting!" 

"Freedom or Death!"

They are whistling. The tipping point has flicked. The mob has lost its fear of the bullets. There are men with machine-guns running forward among the crowd. A tractor is speeding towards the White House, followed by a fork-lift and a pick-up truck. Thousands are watching from the corners of the square. There is more cynicism than excitement, as if this is a deadly election campaign. A core of about 500 armed men are attacking relentlessly, joined by overexcited boys. 

Thick red pools splatter the tarmac. The guard of honour have fled their sentry duty beside the statue commemorating independence from the Soviet imperium. Hooligans in hoods are smashing up their glass-windowed posts. The flash from stun guns, then the clouds of tear-gas. My eyes are burning and the vapour is choking. But I haven't got the time to be tear-gassed — I am being shot at. 

As dozens rush back, scores surge forward. The volume of confrontation rises through the evening into the night. The shuddering of machine-guns, explosions, the howl of the mob. Television and radio go dead. Will the army move in? An image of three revolutionaries in blue scarves appears on TV, then disappears. At 2am, cheering and the honking or cars, the blaring of megaphones. The Kyrgyz Bastille has fallen to the rebels. 

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
More Dispatches
Popular Standpoint topics