Asia

Kyrgyzstan's ex-president arrested after raids on home

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Media captionPeople began to scream and run as troops moved in

Kyrgyzstan's security forces have arrested former President Almazbek Atambayev after a botched raid on his property overnight resulted in the death of one officer.

Mr Atambayev reportedly surrendered and was taken to the capital, Bishkek.

It followed a standoff in which his supporters took six officers captive.

Current President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said Mr Atambayev, who was initially wanted for questioning as a witness, had committed a "grave crime".

The former leader had repeatedly refused police summonses to testify as a witness about alleged corruption and abuse of office.

Special forces officers attempted to raid his house late on Wednesday night, but his supporters took up arms in his defence. The six soldiers they captured were later released.

Shortly afterwards, gunfire and stun grenades were reported at the home in a second raid on the property, on the outskirts of the capital.

Mr Jeenbekov - Mr Atambayev's former ally and successor - said the ex-president had "grossly flouted" the law by "putting up severe armed resistance" to police.

"Yesterday we were summoning him as a witness, now we will summon him over a grave crime," he told a special parliamentary session on Thursday.

A police statement said Mr Atambayev - who ruled Kyrgyzstan from 2011 to 2017 - "will be delivered to the relevant authorities for further investigative measures".

What's the latest?

Special forces used an armoured vehicle to break through the gates of the compound in Koi Tash village outside the capital, and soldiers blocked roads leading to Mr Atambayev's residence, local media reported.

Reports from local journalists at the scene said Mr Atambayev had surrendered to officers. Two aides were thought to be with him.

Local news site 24.kg reports he was flown by helicopter to avoid supporters who were blocking the roads.

Politician Irina Karamushkina, an ally of Mr Atambayev's, told AFP his supporters were "ready to defend the former president to the end".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kyrgyzstan President Soronbai Jeenbekov (left) was the chosen successor of his former ally, Almazbek Atambayev (right)

The former president had planned a rally on Thursday, but cancelled it and called his supporters back to defend his residence.

What happened overnight?

The raid began late on Wednesday. According to Kyrgyzstan's national security committee (GKNB), special forces armed "only with rubber bullets" were undertaking a "special operation to detain" the former president.

As the troops moved in, the GKNB said, Mr Atambayev's supporters fired back with live ammunition.

But Mr Atambayev took responsibility for the shooting, saying only he had a gun.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Supporters of Mr Atambayev were in celebratory mood after driving special forces from his home

One officer was killed, while 80 people were injured and 53 hospitalised.

"A special forces officer was delivered [to hospital] in an extremely serious condition with a gunshot wound. Despite resuscitation attempts, he died," a health ministry statement said.

The head of the State Committee for National Security says at least 19 members of the security forces were injured, with six in a serious condition, 24.kg reports.

As night fell, roads leading to the compound were barricaded by Mr Atambayev's supporters while security forces regrouped nearby.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Supporters of Almazbek Atambayev guard his home

Witness Mirbek Aitikeyev, who posted footage of the raid on Facebook, told AFP news agency that some of those protecting Mr Atambayev had seized weapons from the special forces, who "retreated under the onslaught of the crowd".

Eyes watering from tear gas

By Aibek Abdylaev, BBC Kyrgyz, Koi-Tash

Even without being able to get close to the ex-president's house, the journalists behind the security cordons could smell the tear gas, our eyes occasionally watering.

Once the ex-president was arrested, police used stun grenades in an attempt to disperse hundreds, if not close to a thousand, of Mr Atambayev's supporters in the village of Koi-Tash.

Protesters had been burning tyres and throwing stones at the police as the convoy with the arrested politician drove away. Security forces have brought vehicles into the village to put out fires.

It is being reported that up to four security officers have suffered gunshot wounds and a civilian was affected by a stun grenade.

What's the context?

Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian republic that became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is about two-thirds the size of the United Kingdom, but has a population of just six million - most of whom are Turkic-speaking Muslims.

The country remains relatively poor, with a GDP per capita on par with Cameroon or Kenya. Dissatisfaction with the government has meant a lack of political stability since independence - the first two post-Soviet presidents were deposed after waves of mass protests.

Kyrgyz Republic

Capital: Bishkek

  • Population 6 million

  • Area 199,900 sq km (77,182 sq miles)

  • Major languages Kyrgyz, Russian

  • Major religions Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 67 years (men), 75 years (women)

  • Currency som

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Relations between Mr Atambayev and Mr Jeyenbekov soured after the transfer of power, and observers say Mr Jeyenbekov moved to sideline his predecessor politically last year by removing Atambayev loyalists from positions of power.

Parliament stripped Mr Atambayev of his immunity in June so that he could be sent a subpoena to appear as a witness - in a case involving the unlawful release of a Chechen crime boss in 2013. He has ignored three subpoenas from the interior ministry.

But he is also accused of multiple incidents of corruption - all of which he denies. He has ignored orders to surrender to police for questioning, characterising them as illegal.

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