Impoverished Kyrgyzstan looks set to become the third ex-Soviet state in two years to see its entrenched leadership fall to popular protests after disputed elections, following Ukraine and Georgia.

Hours after protesters seized control of the presidential and government headquarters, a top opposition leader said Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev has resigned and President Askar Akayev has left Kyrgyzstan.

"Akayev is no longer on the territory of Kyrgyzstan," Kurmanbek Bakiyev said on opposition-controlled state television. He said Tanayev had tendered his resignation, but that the Security, Interior and Defense Ministries were working with the opposition. Akayev had also resigned, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

About 1000 protesters on Thursday managed to clear riot police from their positions outside the fence protecting the building, and about half that number entered the compound and went into the building through the front entrance.

Others smashed windows with stones, while hundreds of police watched from outside the fence.

Protesters led the defence minister out of the building, holding him by the elbows and trying to protect him, but others threw stones at the military chief and one protester kicked him.

Interior Ministry troops led other officials out, and three injured people left in bandages, accompanied by a doctor.

Opposition pledge

It was the culmination of the first major rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek since opposition supporters seized control of key cities and towns in the south to underline their demands that President Askar Akayev step down amid allegations of fraud in this year's parliamentary vote.

Charges of vote rigging triggered
the opposition protests

"We will establish order. We will not allow looting. We will hold our own elections to start our rule," former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, who has emerged as one of the key figures in the protests against Akayev's rule, declared on Thursday. 

Charges that parliamentary elections in February and March were rigged triggered the opposition protests that began in the south of the country.

People in bandages

Many of the demonstrators who stormed the presidential compound had come from a rally on the outskirts of Bishkek, where protesters roared and clapped when an opposition activist asserted that Akayev's foes would soon control the entire Central Asian nation.

"Akayev's days are numbered," Topchubek Turgunaliyev, an
activist of the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan,
told the crowd.

President Akayev is prohibited
from seeking another term

Bakiyev, who now heads the People's Movement, told crowds at an earlier rally: "The people of Kyrgyzstan will not let anybody torment them.

"We must show persistence and strength, and we will win."

In Thursday's dramatic scenes in Bishkek, marchers trooped to the government headquarters, a hulking Soviet-era building set away from the street.

A protester charged through the square on horseback, a yellow opposition flag flapping. Two protesters waved a flag from a top-floor window in the building, and others looked out of other windows as cheers erupted from demonstrators.

Portraits dumped

The protesters appeared to control the building, with some on every floor. They threw papers and portraits of Akayev out of windows.

"We must show persistence and strength, and we
will win"

Kurmanbek Bakiyev,
People's Movement head

It was unclear where Akayev was. Some camouflage-clad troops were leaving the building, and none appeared to be confronting the protesters.

Many of the demonstrators wore pink or yellow headbands signifying their loyalty to the opposition - reminiscent of the orange worn by protesters who helped topple the Ukrainian government last year.

The opposition also said it had taken over the national television station. "The latest news is that national TV is with us," an opposition leader told a rally in central Bishkek.

There was no word on the fate of Akayev, who has been in
power for 14 years. Local media speculated he might have gone to a Russian airbase 20km outside the capital.