Ex-president of Kyrgyzstan surrenders a day after violent botched raid

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s former President Almazbek Atambayev surrendered to security forces at his compound outside the capital Bishkek on Thursday, a day after a commando was killed in a failed attempt to arrest him that led to violent clashes with his followers.

FILE PHOTO: Kyrgyz former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was stripped of legal immunity after a parliamentary vote, and his supporters attend a meeting with journalists in the village of Koy-Tash near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov/File Photo

A video posted online by an Atambayev supporter showed several cars being driven out of the former president’s country house by security officials after what his party described as his surrender. One of Atambayev’s aides is visible inside one car saying it was headed to the interior ministry.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said Atambayev, originally wanted for questioning as a witness in an investigation, was now wanted for a “grave crime” after the violent standoff the previous day.

The confrontation between Jeenbekov and his former patron and predecessor risks destabilizing the Central Asian nation which hosts a Russian military airbase and is a major center for gold mining.

During the previous day’s botched raid, one member of the security forces was killed and six others were captured by Atambayev’s followers, the authorities said.

Jeenbekov ordered unspecified “urgent measures” on Thursday to maintain the rule of law.

Atambayev, who helped Jeenbekov to power in 2017 but whose relationship with the president then soured, says corruption allegations against him are politically motivated.

Atambayev and his supporters initially announced plans on Thursday to rally in Bishkek and march toward the building which houses both parliament and the president’s office. But Atambayev did not show up and remained holed up in a village near Bishkek.

Local media reported sounds of gunfire and stun grenades going off at the site when security forces launched a second raid on Thursday.

A video posted by news website showed Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov, wearing a bulletproof vest, negotiating the terms of Atambayev’s surrender. Asanov can be heard offering to let Atambayev bring his bodyguards with him in a car out of the compound.

Atambayev’s lawyer, Sergei Slesarev, told Reuters his client was now in custody and his case would be investigated by police.

Parliament stripped Atambayev of immunity from prosecution in June, accusing him of corruption.

“Unfortunately, the authorities have not listened to my calls to act legally,” Atambayev said in a video address posted online.

Kyrgyzstan has been politically volatile: presidents were deposed by uprisings in 2005 and 2010. Atambayev, who took part in both revolts, helped to ensure a smooth succession and hoped to retain influence by installing then-ally Jeenbekov as successor in 2017. But within months, Jeenbekov purged Atambayev loyalists from the cabinet.

Late last month, Atambayev visited Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin expressed support for Jeenbekov in a statement made after the meeting.

Indicating it expected the situation to stabilize, the Kyrgyz government pressed ahead with plans to host a meeting of prime ministers from several ex-Soviet nations including Russia on Friday. Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin has already arrived in the resort town of Cholpon-Ata, it said.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Peter Graff