Kyrgyz president strengthens hold on power as new PM named

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov strengthened his grip on power on Saturday, reshuffling top security officials as his principal opponent, ex-president Almazbek Atambayev, was detained again just days after leaving prison.

FILE PHOTO - Kyrgyzstan's President Sooronbai Jeenbekov speaks after a vote at a parliamentary elections in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan October 4, 2020. Sultan Dosaliev/Kyrgyz Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS/File Picture.

Jeenbekov’s allies in parliament elected a new prime minister, moving to impose order on what close ally Russia has called a state of political chaos a day after the president deployed troops in and around the capital Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan, a Сentral Asian nation that hosts a Russian military airbase and is a hub for trade with neighbouring China, has been gripped by unrest since Oct. 4, the date of a contested election that was subsequently annulled.

On Saturday night Bishkek was calm, as a state of emergency declared by Jeenbekov and incorporating a ban on public rallies and a curfew took effect.

Lawmakers earlier voted in the only candidate for premier, 51-year-old Sadyr Zhaparov, who some opposition factions accused of being in league with the president.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia to his appointment.

Jeenbekov had on Friday instructed troops to re-establish order amid flare-ups of violence, and military checkpoints were put up overnight around Bishkek while personnel carriers patrolled the city.

He also sacked top security council officials who had either supported his opponents or failed to intervene when the opposition said on Tuesday it was seizing power.

More than 1,200 people have been injured and one person has been killed, according to health ministry figures, in clashes that erupted on Monday following the election, in which establishment parties had claimed a landslide victory.

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With the parliament building ransacked by protesters, lawmakers gathered on Saturday in the presidential residence on the outskirts of Bishkek to vote in Zhaparov.

He previously served as adviser to another former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was succeeded by Atambayev in 2011.

Atambayev’s supporters had on Tuesday secured his release from prison, where he was serving a lengthy sentence for corruption, and said he survived an assassination attempt on Friday.

The state security service said it had rearrested Atambayev on charges of inciting unrest. The ex-president is Jeenbekov’s former patron and now his arch-enemy. Among others detained on Saturday was former deputy interior minister Kursan Asanov, who had assumed leadership of the ministry when the unrest began.

Prior to his appointment as premier, Zhaparov called for constitutional reforms before fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

He told parliament that Jeenbekov had reaffirmed to him his intention to resign once a new cabinet was approved.

Before parliament voted on Zhaparov’s candidacy, speaker Myktybek Abdyldayev resigned, meaning Zhaparov would also assume presidential powers if Jeenbekov stepped down.

Zhaparov’s supporters had clashed on Friday with followers of a few other parties which nominated their own candidate for PM, Omurbek Babanov.

Kyrgyzstan’s opposition is divided between 11 parties that represent clan interests. Two of its presidents have been toppled by popular revolts since 2005.

The former Soviet republic, which has a population of just 6.5 million, is also home to a large Canadian-owned mining operation.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Olga Dzyubenko; Editing by Frances Kerry and John Stonestreet