Kyrgyz ex-president arrested, accused of coup plan: state media

BISHKEK (Reuters) - The head of Kyrgyzstan’s security forces on Tuesday accused ex-president Almazbek Atambayev on Tuesday of planning to stage a coup, state news agency Kabar said, following a deadly clash last week with police sent to his house to arrest him.

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

Atambayev surrendered on Thursday when police raided his home and detained him for questioning over a corruption case, laying bare a power struggle with his successor Sooronbai Jeenbekov that has pushed the Central Asian nation to the brink of political crisis.

Atambayev’s supporters had repulsed a similar raid the previous day in which a deputy commander of a special forces unit was killed.

In an indictment related to the botched raid, prosecutors on Tuesday charged him with murder, hostage-taking and causing mass unrest, Kabar said.

Atambayev has dismissed criminal investigations against him as politically motivated and illegal.

National security chief Orozbek Opumbayev on Tuesday accused the former president of seeking bloodshed.

“Then, blaming it on the authorities, he would have been able to stage a coup,” Kabar quoted Opumbayev as saying.

Opumbayev said Atambayev shot at security officers with his sniper rifle, fatally wounding one of them. Atambayev said last week he had fired off several shots, but most were warning ones directed into the air.

His lawyer Sergei Slesarev declined to comment on Atambayev’s position with regards to the charges. He said Atambayev refused to be questioned.

The authorities have also impounded Atambayev’s assets including the April television station which had helped the former president reach a broad audience.

Separately, the Interior Ministry said deputy minister Kursan Asanov, who personally negotiated Atambayev’s surrender, has been sacked for “betraying the interests of Kyrgyz police”. It provided no details.

In several videos posted online, Asanov could be seen talking to Atambayev and his supporters and discussing the terms on which they would be taken into custody, such as Atambayev’s two bodyguards going along with him in the same car.

Atambayev, who served as president of the former Soviet republic between 2011 and 2017, backed his then-ally Jeenbekov’s presidential bid, hoping to retain political influence.

But Jeenbekov purged Atambayev loyalists from his cabinet last year, prompting a falling-out between the two which was followed by several criminal probes targeting Atambayev and his close associates.

Kyrgyzstan has been a close ally of Moscow and hosts a Russian military airbase. Atambayev met Vladimir Putin last month but the Russian president subsequently endorsed Jeenbekov in public.

A former Communist apparatchik and businessman, Atambayev took part in revolts in 2005 and 2010 that deposed two consecutive presidents, earning Kyrgyzstan a reputation as Central Asia’s most politically volatile nation.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan