Friday 23 August 2019

Kyrgyzstan’s ex-president arrested at second attempt after violent clashes

The first attempt by police to arrest Almazbek Atambayev at his residence failed after supporters rushed to his defence.

(Vladimir Voronin/AP)
(Vladimir Voronin/AP)

By Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press

Police in Kyrgyzstan have detained the Central Asian nation’s ex-president following violent clashes with his supporters, a day after a previous attempt left one policeman dead and nearly 80 people injured.

The violence has raised the threat of a new round of turmoil in the ex-Soviet nation, which borders China and hosts a Russian military air base.

Kyrgyzstan’s first two presidents after independence were both driven from office by riots.

Almazbek Atambayev, who was in office from 2011 to 2017, accused his successor and one-time protege Sooronbai Jeenbekov of fabricating false criminal charges against him to stifle criticism.

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Almazbek Atambayev (Vyacheslav Oseledko/AP)

He urged his supporters to rally in the capital Bishkek to demand Mr Jeenbekov’s resignation.

The first attempt by police to arrest Atambayev at his residence outside the capital failed late on Wednesday after his supporters rushed to his defence and clashed with police.

One officer later died of injuries in hospital and 79 people were injured, according to official statements.

Atambayev’s supporters took six policemen as hostages, but released them on Thursday.

Shopping malls and other businesses shut down on Thursday ahead of the planned rallies, reflecting fears of widespread looting that accompanied earlier violence.

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Supporters of Almazbek Atambayev fight with special forces troops (Vladimir Voronin/AP)

But instead of rallying in the capital, Atambayev’s supporters changed course and headed back to his countryside residence to fend off a new attempt to arrest him. However, thousands of police armed with water cannons and stun grenades eventually overwhelmed their resistance.

Atambayev dismissed a slew of charges, including corruption and the expropriation of property, as “absurd”.

He said he fired several shots when police came to arrest him on Wednesday, adding that he “tried not to hit people”.

Addressing an emergency parliamentary session called to discuss the crisis, Mr Jeenbekov said Atambayev should face charges for firing at police.

Kyrgyzstan’s close ally Russia has called for restraint.

Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin warned that the tensions have reached a “dangerous scale” and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the conflicting parties to show “responsibility and common sense”.

Atambayev travelled to Russia last month and met Vladimir Putin in an apparent attempt to rally support, but the Russian president later reaffirmed that Moscow was committed to working with Mr Jeenbekov.

PA Media

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