BISHKEK: Police in Kyrgyzstan detained the Central Asian nation’s ex-president on Thursday following violent clashes with his supporters, a day after a previous attempt to arrest him 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.
Atambayev urged his supporters to rally on Thursday in the capital, Bishkek, to demand Jeenbekov’s resignation.
The first attempt by police to arrest Atambayev at his residence outside the capital failed late Wednesday after his supporters rushed to his defence and clashed with police. A police officer later died of injuries at a 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.
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 cannon and stun grenades eventually overwhelmed their resistance.
Atambayev rejects graft charges
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 parliament session called to discuss the crisis, 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 traveled to Russia last month and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an apparent attempt to rally support, but the Russian leader later reaffirmed that Moscow was committed to working with Jeenbekov.