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Kyrgyzstan special forces seize ex-president in raid

Kyrgyzstan’s former president was detained in a major security operation Thursday, police said, a day after clashes between his supporters and law enforcement left one dead and dozens injured.

Almazbek Atambayev
Kyrgyz special forces have launched raids to capture former president Almazbek Atambayev (Picture by AFP)

The Central Asian state, which has seen two revolutions in less than two decades, is on the brink of crisis amid a standoff between ex-leader Almazbek Atambayev and his protege-turned-foe President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

Atambayev was detained by security services at his residence in the village of Koi-Tash near the capital Bishkek, after the second raid in two days on the compound.

A police statement said Atambayev “will be delivered to the relevant authorities for further investigative measures.”

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw security forces drive a military vehicle through the gates of the complex where the former head of state has been holed up for weeks.

Officers broke up a crowd of Atambayev supporters using tear gas and smoke grenades, the journalist said.

Police said that no-one had died during the second operation.

Atambayev has ignored police summonses for questioning on corruption charges that supporters say are politically motivated.

On Wednesday an already tense political situation escalated when the national security service announced an operation to take Atambayev from the residence outside Bishkek, capital of the Muslim-majority nation of six million people.

The operation failed and descended into violence.

– Security officers beaten –

The health ministry said a special forces officer had died from a gunshot wound and the head of the Chui province police department was in a critical condition after being concussed during the clashes on Wednesday.

The ministry said 52 people were injured, around half of them law enforcement officers.

A further five people — one civilian and four servicemen — were taken to hospital after the operation on Thursday.

Early Thursday President Jeenbekov convened a meeting of the state security council and an emergency session of parliament.

Jeenbekov said during the security council meeting that Atambayev had “rudely flouted the Constitution and laws of the Kyrgyz Republic” by resisting detention.

– Putin intervention –

Parliament in June stripped Atambayev of his immunity as a former president and the state prosecutor brought corruption charges against him.

The standoff has drawn in Russia — the country’s Soviet-era master and traditional political patron — where hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz work as migrant labourers.

Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin met with both Jeenbekov and Atambayev in Moscow in a bid to defuse the confrontation.

Erica Marat, Associate Professor at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., said Atambayev’s outreach to Putin shows that “he clearly sees himself as a viable political figure in Kyrgyzstan”, emboldening his stance against the incumbent leader.

Marat said the pair’s confrontation is symptomatic of Kyrgyzstan’s failure to reform its security institutions and courts.

“Jeenbekov must now decide whether to escalate violent confrontation with Atambayev’s supporters or negotiate,” Marat said.

– Ex-friends –

Jeenbekov and Atambayev were once friends, and the former leader backed the incumbent in 2017 elections that marked an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power between heads of state.

But they fell out just months after Jeenbekov’s inauguration as Atambayev publicly criticised his successor and security services arrested several key Atambayev allies.

Political analyst and video blogger Azim Azimov raised fears that the standoff might devolve into a “civil conflict… if both sides decide to take it to the end.”

“This is the most scary potential outcome,” he said in a video published Thursday morning. AFP