Kyrgyz opposition leader arrested on eve of Putin visit

BISHKEK (Reuters) - A Kyrgyz court jailed a prominent opposition politician on corruption charges on Monday, a move his supporters said was part of a politically motivated crackdown by President Almazbek Atambayev.

Omurbek Tekebayev, leader of Ata-Meken party, takes an oath during the first session of parliament in Bishkek, November 10, 2010. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

The court ordered Omurbek Tekebayev to be detained for two months pending trial, a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Central Asian former Soviet republic, which hosts a Russian airbase.

Kyrgyzstan holds presidential elections on Nov. 19 in which Atambayev is barred from running. Tekebayev, whose supporters plan to nominate him as a candidate, is one of the president’s most outspoken critics.

The state security service detained 58-year-old Tekebayev, who leads the Ata Meken (Fatherland) party’s parliamentary faction, on Sunday after the prosecutor general’s office alleged he took a $1 million bribe from a Russian businessman in 2010.

Then a senior member of an interim government, Tekebayev promised the man he would be able to take over a local telecommunications company, prosecutors said, citing the Russian businessman’s testimony.

Tekebayev’s allies said he denied any wrongdoing.

A few hundred Tekebayev supporters have rallied in the capital Bishkek since Sunday, protests that a second Ata Meken lawmaker, Kanybek Imanaliyev, said would continue.

While Atambayev cannot serve another term as president, constitutional amendments passed in a referendum that was orchestrated by his backers in parliament have significantly increased the powers of the prime minister.

That role would be open to Atambayev, though he has denied planning to seek it.

Atambayev, who took office in 2011, has drawn Kyrgyzstan closer into Russia’s orbit, shutting down a U.S. airbase and joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, a post-Soviet trade bloc.

Putin is due to visit Bishkek on Tuesday as part of a regional tour.

Both Atambayev’s predecessors were toppled by violent riots.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet