Kyrgyz leader says ‘in control’ after protesters storm government house

Published October 6, 2020, 5:49 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

Kyrgyzstan was in political crisis Tuesday as its pro-Russian president insisted he was in control hours after protesters seized the seat of government and freed his predecessor from jail following violent clashes with police.

People protesting the results of a parliamentary vote gather by a bonfire in front of the seized main government building, known as the White House, in Bishkek, on October 6, 2020. – Kyrgyzstan was deep in political crisis Tuesday with its pro-Russian president insisting he was in control despite protesters capturing the seat of government and freeing his predecessor and nemesis following violent clashes with police. (Photo by VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO / AFP)

Ex-leader Almazbek Atambayev was one of several high profile politicians freed by protesters during a chaotic night in the capital Bishkek, after a rally against ballot violations in parliamentary elections turned violent and left over a hundred seeking medical care in hospitals.

The crisis — reminiscent of revolutions that saw presidents toppled in 2005 and 2010 — will be closely watched by Russia, which maintains a military base in the landlocked republic of 6.5 million and neighbouring China.

Moscow’s embassy in Bishkek on Tuesday called for “a legal solution” to the crisis. “Ensuring the safety of citizens, internal stability should be a priority,” it added.

Other released prisoners include two former prime ministers and two former lawmakers, media reported. 

President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s office said in a statement that the president was “in control of the situation and expresses confidence that all political forces will put the interests of the country above their own.”

“I ordered law enforcement agencies not to open fire or shed blood, so as not to endanger the life of a single citizen,” Jeenbekov said in a separate statement. 

He said he had “suggested that the Central Election Commission carefully investigate the violations and, if necessary, annul the election results” that sparked the unrest. 

Broken windows, strewn debris

On Tuesday morning, supporters of nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov — who was also freed by protesters — called for him to be made prime minister at a gathering outside the building that houses Jeenbekov’s office and parliament.

An AFP correspondent saw broken windows and debris strewn around the rooms of the building whose exits were being guarded by protesters with no official security presence in sight. Volunteers were handing out tea and helping municipal services cleaning up the building. 

Media reported that Omurbek Suvanaliyev, whose party Butun Kyrgyzstan scraped into parliament according to preliminary results, was appointed national security chief.

It was not clear who had appointed Suvanaliyev or what legal force the appointment had. 

Two candidates also claimed the position of acting state prosecutor in the space of several hours.

The Central Election Commission was meeting Tuesday to determine the fate of the disputed election, which was marred by accusations of vote-buying in favour of pro-presidential parties. 

A preliminary count showed two pro-presidency parties, Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan dominating the new parliament and three parties represented in the outgoing parliament left out in the cold.

Opposition supporters poured onto Bishkek’s streets the previous evening to demand Jeenbekov’s resignation and a re-run of Sunday’s poll.

Poll sows divisions

The peaceful demonstrations in Bishkek turned violent after a column of protesters marched on the White House, home to parliament and the presidential administration.

Police used water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to force their way through the gates of the building.

But demonstrators later returned and surrounded the building, eventually breaking in and later marching to the State National Security Committee  building where former president Atambayev was jailed.

Adil Turdukuov, an activist and ally of Atambayev who witnessed the release said the ex-leader was freed “without force or use of any weapons” and that national security officials had not attempted to halt protesters.

Footage posted on social media showed the 64-year-old former leader greeting supporters after he left jail, where he was serving an 11-year-sentence for his role in the illegal release of a mob boss.

Atambayev was once close with his successor Jeenbekov, but the pair fell out shortly after the 61-year-old won 2017 presidential elections.

Both men are viewed as loyal allies of Russia, a destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants, whose strategic position in the country is likely to remain unaffected despite the unrest.