What is happening in Kyrgyzstan?
Regional separatism? Ethnic upheaval? Revolt against state corruption? A popular upsurge in support of democracy? Claims of government election-rigging in recent parliamentary polls have set off a wide array of emotions and demands in this small Central Asian country, and all centers on the removal of President Askar Akayev.
At the February parliamentary election, opposition leaders were barred from participating, while two of Mr Akayev's children were elected, prompting speculation he intended to create a ruling dynasty - an idea seemingly entertained by all post-Soviet Central Asian leaders.
Mr Akayev accuses Washington of orchestrating the opposition protests and complains bitterly about the US ambassador being unable to see a difference between his government and regimes in other Central Asian states.
The president and the government of the former Soviet republic were toppled on Thursday and Kyrgyzstan is at the moment in opposition hands.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was too soon to know where events in Kyrgyzstan were leading.
"This is a process that's just beginning," she said, adding that the US would seek to "move this process of democracy forward".
Russia's reaction was more sceptical.
"I think that the so-called opposition... should have the brains to find enough strength to calm down and bring the situation to the plane of political dialogue and not a dialogue of screams, shattering windows, destroying buildings and freeing prisons of criminals," Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said.
Kyrgyzstan is of strategic importance to Russia and the United States, both of which have military bases in the country.
U.S. officials say the U.S. military amounts to 2,000 troops and private contractors at an air base outside Bishkek.
It has been Central Asia's unhappy fate over the years to get swept up in rivalries among major powers - initially Russia and Britain; now Russia, China and the United States. That pattern was reinforced after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when the Bush administration began courting the region's rulers and minimizing their dictatorial abuses to secure air bases near Afghanistan. One particularly useful base is located in Kyrgyzstan, just outside Bishkek. That may explain why the State Department voiced only mild criticism of this month's election fraud, while taking the opposition to task for taking over and trashing government buildings. What a contrast with Washington's forthright support for huge antigovernment protests in Kiev last year and in Beirut earlier this month. NY Times
The Kyrgyz Republic has been a sovereign, independent and democratic state since 1991. It is situated in the north-east of Central Asia and borders with Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and China. Kyrgyzstan is close to Afghanistan - an area with a history of inter-ethnic conflicts lying on one of the world's drug trafficking routes.
According to the latest data the population of Kyrgyzstan is 4.7 million people and more than 80 ethnic groups. The indigenous people of the country are Kyrgyz, they are descedants of one of the most ancient inhabitants of Central Asia and make up 58% of the population. The first historical data about Kyrgyz people refer back to 201 A.D.
Many observers believe the Kyrgyz are keen on democracy because personal freedom has been at the heart of their nomadic culture. With Islam not as deeply embedded here as in the rest of Central Asia, the Kyrgyz seem to be closer to the Buddhist Mongols than to Muslim Uzbeks or Tajiks.
Read Analysis: Why Kyrgyzstan matters