Detained Kyrgyzstan ex-president accused of coup plot

Detained Kyrgyzstan ex-president accused of coup plot

Atambayev was detained in a massive security operation last week.
Atambayev was detained in a massive security operation last week.

BISHKEK (KYRGYZSTAN) - Kyrgyzstan's ex-president was plotting to overthrow the government before he was detained in raids on his compound last week, the country's security services alleged Tuesday.

A massive security operation on Thursday to seize Almazbek Atambayev, who was president from 2011 to 2017, has brought fresh political turmoil to the Central Asian nation.

A failed attempt to detain him the day before sparked deadly clashes between his supporters and law enforcement.

"He wanted bloodshed. His intention was a state coup," Orozbek Opumbayev, the head of the national security committee, told a news conference in the capital Bishkek.

The head of the state prosecutor's investigations department said Atambayev would also be probed for organising attempted murder, after one law enforcement officer died in last week's clashes.

Kyrgyz authorities are now investigating Atambayev for violence and organising riots, in addition to five existing criminal cases against him -- all of which could add up to a long prison sentence.

Kyrgyzstan's Interior Minister Kashkar Junushaliev said Tuesday that the clashes left 170 injured -- mostly servicemen, of whom two remain in critical condition.

- 'Betraying interests' -

A deputy interior minister who negotiated Atambayev's surrender was dismissed on Tuesday for "betraying the interests of the police" -- hinting at a law enforcement shake up after the first attempt to detain the former leader descended into violent chaos.

An interior ministry press release said Junushaliev's deputy Kursan Asanov had "lost the confidence" of the ministry.

Widely shared footage from the Thursday raid showed Atambayev negotiate the terms of his surrender with Asanov, securing a guarantee that police would not harm supporters who have holed up with him at the compound in recent weeks.

Kyrgyzstan, which has seen two revolutions in less than two decades, is caught in a standoff between Atambayev and his protege-turned-foe President Sooronbai Jeenbekov that has drawn in the country's Soviet-era master and traditional political patron Russia.

A court last week ordered Atambayev to be held in pre-trial detention until August 26.

Authorities raided and shut down a television channel owned by the former leader following his detention. Independent media and NGOs have criticised the move.

- Five criminal cases -

Prior to his arrest Atambayev had ignored three police summonses for questioning in connection with the release of a well-known underworld figure, ethnic Chechen Aziz Batukayev, in 2013 during his presidency.

The case was among five criminal cases in which Atambayev figured before the clashes at his residency outside Bishkek sparked further investigations.

Several other Atambayev supporters including two sitting lawmakers have been questioned in connection with the clashes.

Jeenbekov and Atambayev were once friends, and the former leader backed the incumbent in the 2017 election, triggering accusations that administrative resources were used to sway the vote.

That vote marked an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power between elected heads of state in the Muslim-majority nation of six million people.

The standoff has been closely watched from Russia, which has a military air base in the country and is a destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant labourers.

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

Mars Sariyev, a pro-Moscow political analyst in Bishkek said that Putin's call in July to support the current president in order to bolster stability had made it difficult for Atambayev to build a coalition to challenge Jeenbekov.

But Sariyev suggested Moscow might not have ditched Atambayev -- a loyal former partner -- just yet.

"Anything can happen. There are even rumours that Moscow advised Atambayev to surrender. Perhaps come autumn or spring he will be on a plane there again," Sariyev told AFP.

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