Kyrgyzstan’s former president detained after violent clashes

Atambayev wanted for ‘grave crime’ says successor after followers kill one officer

 

Kyrgyzstan’s former president Almazbek Atambayev surrendered to security forces at his compound outside the capital Bishkek on Thursday, a day after a commando was killed in a failed attempt to arrest him that led to violent clashes with his followers.

A video posted online by an Atambayev supporter showed several cars being driven out of the former president’s country house by security officials after what his party described as his surrender. One of Mr Atambayev’s aides is visible inside one car saying it was headed to the interior ministry.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said Mr Atambayev, originally wanted for questioning as a witness in an investigation, was now wanted for a “grave crime” after the violent standoff the previous day.

The confrontation between Mr Jeenbekov and his former patron and predecessor risks destabilising the central Asian nation, which hosts a Russian military airbase and is a major centre for gold mining.

During the previous day’s botched raid, one member of the security forces was killed and six others were captured by Mr Atambayev’s followers, the authorities said. Mr Jeenbekov ordered unspecified “urgent measures” on Thursday to maintain the rule of law.

Mr Atambayev, who helped Mr Jeenbekov to power in 2017 but whose relationship with the president then soured, says corruption allegations against him are politically motivated.

Mr Atambayev and his supporters initially announced plans on Thursday to rally in Bishkek and march towards the building which houses both parliament and the president’s office. But Mr Atambayev did not show up and remained holed up in a village near Bishkek.

Local media reported sounds of gunfire and stun grenades going off at the site when security forces launched a second raid on Thursday.

Bodyguards

A video posted by news website Kaktus.media showed deputy interior minister Kursan Asanov, wearing a bulletproof vest, negotiating the terms of Mr Atambayev’s surrender. Mr Asanov can be heard offering to let Mr Atambayev bring his bodyguards with him in a car out of the compound.

Mr Atambayev’s lawyer, Sergei Slesarev, said his client was now in custody and his case would be investigated by police.

Parliament stripped Mr Atambayev of immunity from prosecution in June, accusing him of corruption. “Unfortunately, the authorities have not listened to my calls to act legally,” Mr Atambayev said in a video address posted online.

Kyrgyzstan has been politically volatile: presidents were deposed by uprisings in 2005 and 2010. Mr Atambayev, who took part in both revolts, helped to ensure a smooth succession and hoped to retain influence by installing then-ally Mr Jeenbekov as successor in 2017. But within months, Mr Jeenbekov purged Atambayev loyalists from the cabinet.

Late last month, Mr Atambayev visited Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr Putin expressed support for Mr Jeenbekov in a statement made after the meeting.

Indicating it expected the situation to stabilise, the Kyrgyz government pressed ahead with plans to host a meeting of prime ministers from several ex-Soviet nations including Russia on Friday. Kazakh prime minister Askar Mamin had already arrived in the resort town of Cholpon-Ata, it said. – Reuters