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Kyrgyzstan Detains Ex-President Almazbek Atambaev

Former President Almazbek Atambaev negotiates surrender terms with Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov on August 8, 2019. (Radio Azattyk)
Former President Almazbek Atambaev negotiates surrender terms with Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov on August 8, 2019. (Radio Azattyk)

Krygyz security forces have detained former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev after carrying out a second armed raid on his residential complex in the village of Koi-Tash, outside of the capital, Bishkek. He has been taken to the State Committee on National Security (GNKB) for interrogation.

The 62-year-old former leader faces several different criminal charges related to his 2011-2017 term in office, but has defied three subpoenas for questioning by prosecutors. An August 7 raid by security forces to bring him in for questioning proved unsuccessful, but took the life of one serviceman and wounded 52 people.

Atambaev’s lawyer, Sergei Slesarev, told Russia’s TASS news service that he expects his client to now be taken into custody. The ex-president’s political associates Kunduz Zholdobaeva, deputy chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party, and advisor Farid Niyazov, who traveled with him in a police car to Bishkek, reportedly have also been detained.

Following the ex-president’s detention, Interior Ministry and GNKB troops, equipped with stun grenades and tear gas, dispersed a pro-Atambaev demonstration in downtown Bishkek, not far from government headquarters, the Russian Interfax news agency and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop reported.

After their unsuccessful initial raid, security forces returned to Koi-Tash in the afternoon on August 8. They gained access to the residence by using a combination of tear gas, water cannons, and a special vehicle to break down the entrance gate.

When Atambaev’s surrender finally came, it occurred relatively smoothly. “It makes no difference to me: You can shoot me, but don’t touch my guys!” he said to Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov, who oversaw the raid. He went into the residence’s foyer and met Asanov only after the deputy minister had assured him that no one would beat or shoot his supporters.

“Everything will be decided within the framework of the law,” Asanov said.

A member of Atambaev’s staff claimed that more than 2,000 police officers and special forces stormed the residence. Around 300-400 supporters of the former president inside the building put up a residence, barricading the doors with couches and other furniture, the individual said.

Mobile telecommunications in Koi-Tash stopped working and police closed roads to the village.

Eight people were wounded during the operation, the Ministry of Health reported. One serviceman died and 52 people were wounded during the initial raid.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov earlier had declared at a morning session of the Security Council that Atambaev has “blatantly violated the country’s Constitution and laws, putting up a tough armed resistance to the execution of legal investigative activities.” То maintain rule of law and security, “urgent measures” need to be taken, he said, without elaboration.

Atambaev, who barricaded himself in a room during the August 7 raid, claimed that he had been “the only armed person in the complex” and had fired his gun “five or six times,” but without trying to hit any of the special forces. He was not wounded during either of the clashes.

Kyrgyzstan Security Forces Raid Ex-President Azambek Atambaev's Residence
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His supporters, though supposedly unarmed, managed to take six of the troops as hostages. They were released by the afternoon on August 8, Radio Azattyq reported.

In remarks to reporters, Atambaev had announced a “non-stop rally” starting at 4 p.m. local time at his Media Forum building in the capital, Bishkek, and then plans to march to government headquarters, local media reported. The Media Forum building contains the TV station Aprel, which has broadcast Atambaev’s statements about the special-forces operation.

“We’ll go out to the demonstration so that we won’t be considered like sheep,” Atambaev said in remarks to reporters.

He remained defiant toward law enforcement’s attempt to seize him for questioning.

“The general prosecutor is abandoning or doesn’t know the laws: My house is under state protection until a court decision [decides otherwise] and security forces don’t have the right to storm in here.”

The Kyrgyz parliament voted in late June to end Atambaev’s immunity from prosecution. It had earlier submitted to prosecutors several criminal charges against the ex-president, including corrupt land and energy deals and the 2013 release of mobster Aziz Batukaev from prison. Attributing the charges to a political vendetta by President Jeenbekov, a former friend from his Social Democratic Party, Atambaev three times refused to honor subpoenas to questioning by prosecutors.

On July 24, he had flown to Moscow on a private plane from a Russian air force base in Kyrgyzstan to discuss the standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had urged reconciliation between the disputing parties.

Moscow-based Central Asia analyst Arkady Dubnov cautioned against thinking the Kremlin will intervene to protect Atambaev. Doing so, he underlined in an August 7 interview with Current Time, will only support the accusation that “the older brother” is again trying to rule over former Soviet republics. Kyrgyzstan, he added, does not carry the significance of Ukraine for Russia.

The Kremlin has not yet commented on the raids on Atambaev's residence.

Atambaev served as president from 2011 until 2017 when he became the first Kyrgyz leader to step down from office without being forced out by a revolution.

He went into opposition to the government after several of his close associates faced criminal charges, mainly related to corruption.

Atambaev had warned earlier during his standoff with prosecutors that he was armed, stating that he feared for “the ordinary kids who will come to get me, fulfilling the top brass’s incorrect orders.”

Nonetheless, he cited a Kyrgyz saying that “It’s better to die shooting back than lying down.”

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