Automatic gunfire broke out on Thursday at a rally where the deposed president of Kyrgyzstan was speaking to supporters.
Kurmanbek Bakiyev was quickly hustled into a car and driven away from the scene, and there were no apparent injuries in the crowd.
The gunfire crackled out seconds after Bakiyev began speaking to the crowd of about 5,000 in Osh, the largest city in the southern region that is Bakiyev’s support base.
The Interfax news agency reported that at least some of the shots were fired by Bakiyev’s guards, who were shooting into the air, while CNN reported that the ousted President himself was shot at.
One of Bakiyev’s brothers, Kanybek, told The Associated Press that the president was uninjured and was returning to his home in the village of Teyit, about a two-hour drive from the rally site.
Bakiyev reportedly shouted “Don’t run, don’t run!” as the crowd panicked and fled the square. Witnesses said the president then took refuge in a theatre, and a few minutes later was seen climbing into his SUV and driving away.
Keeping up appearances
After fleeing the capital last week, Bakiyev in recent days has made a series of public appearances, clearly testing how much support he has to try to resist the interim authorities who have taken control in the capital.
It was unclear who fired the shots or if they were aimed into the air or at rally participants.
Bakiyev was driven out of the capital on April 7 after a protest rally boiled over into gunfire and protesters then stormed government buildings. At least 83 people died in the violence.
Bakiyev has said he would be willing to resign if security guarantees were given to him and close relatives. The interim authorities have offered him such guarantees but have refused them for family members.
They also say Bakiyev would have to leave the country or face prosecution. His opponents blame him both for last week’s violence and for alleged widespread corruption.
Bakiyev has shown no signs of willingness to leave Kyrgyzstan, and no country has stepped forward publicly with offers of shelter.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has held phone talks with Bakiyev for the first time since he was deposed from power.
Russia has expressed concern over the events in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, warning the country is on the brink of civil war.