BISHKEK: A court in Kyrgyzstan has ordered the country’s former president to be held in pretrial detention after he was seized from his compound in raids that left one person dead and plunged the country in crisis.
The Central Asian state, which has seen two revolutions in less than two decades, is caught in a standoff between ex-leader Almazbek Atambayev and his protege-turned-foe President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Special forces this week launched two major operations to take Atambayev from his residence outside the capital Bishkek after he refused to be questioned in cases that supporters say are politically motivated.
The first raid failed after descending into deadly violence, but in the second on Thursday he was detained.
A court in Bishkek late Thursday ordered the 62-year-old Atambayev held behind bars until August 26, a court spokesman said, but did not specify what he had been charged with.
Atambayev’s lawyer Sergey Slesarev told AFP that the court decision was connected to the illegal release from jail of a well-known crime boss during Atambayev’s presidency.
Kyrgyzstan’s state prosecutor on Thursday named the freeing of ethnic Chechen underworld figure Aziz Batukayev in 2013 among five criminal cases in which Atambayev figures.
“These charges are baseless… we intend to take our case to international courts,” said Slesarev.
The lawyer argued that his client still enjoys immunity from prosecution according to the constitution, despite parliament voting to strip him of this privilege in June.
The clashes that erupted at the former leader’s residence during the raids on Wednesday and Thursday have triggered several fresh criminal probes.
A funeral service was held on Friday for Usen Niyazbekov, a special forces officer who died from a gunshot wound sustained in the unrest between security services and Atambayev’s supporters.
Around 100 others were injured in the two raids, the health ministry said.
A political heavyweight who ran against Jeenbekov in the 2017 presidential election has announced he would return to the country, despite himself facing criminal investigations, in a move that could bring fresh tensions.
Charismatic magnate Omurbek Babanov, 49, is expected to arrive at Bishkek’s main airport on Friday from Russia, where he fled after authorities opened two probes against him.
Critics say the charges are trumped up.
His political party Respublika said it aimed to “preserve Kyrgyzstan” in the face of the crisis as it announced Babanov’s return.
The State Committee for National Security said Babanov would “be held accountable” on his return.
Jeenbekov and Atambayev were once friends, and the former leader backed the incumbent in the 2017 election against Babanov.
That vote marked an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power between heads of state in the Muslim-majority nation of six million people.
But the pair fell out just months after Jeenbekov’s inauguration as Atambayev publicly criticised his successor and security services arrested several key Atambayev allies.
On Friday, Atambayev’s long-time ally and former chief of staff Farid Niyazov was also being held, while several other allies were due for questioning.
Supporters took to the streets of central Bishkek on Thursday, blocking a key thoroughfare in the city of one million and setting alight trash containers.
Police said in a statement on Friday they were in full control of the city having spent the night dispersing Atambayev’s supporters.
The standoff has drawn in Russia — the country’s Soviet-era master and traditional political patron — where hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz work as migrant labourers.
Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin met with both Jeenbekov and Atambayev in Moscow in a bid to defuse the confrontation.
Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Kyrgyzstan Thursday for a meeting of a regional trade bloc and said he hoped the situation would stabilise.
Kyrgyzstan “has already reached its limit for revolutions,” Medvedev said.