October 22nd, 2020

Kyrgyz president declares state of emergency amid protests


By Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press on October 9, 2020.

A man passes by closed gate of the Kyrgyz government headquarters on the central square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Officials in Kyrgyzstan have nullified the results of a weekend parliamentary election after mass protests erupted in the capital of Bishkek and other cities, with opposition supporters seizing government buildings and demanding a new vote. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

MOSCOW – The embattled president of Kyrgyzstan ordered a nearly two-week state of emergency Friday in the capital, in a bid to end political turmoil sparked by a disputed parliamentary election.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov decreed that the state of emergency, which starts at 8 p.m. Friday and runs through 8 a.m. on Oct. 21, could include a curfew and travel restrictions. He also ordered the military to deploy troops to Bishkek, the capital, to enforce the measure.

It was unclear whether police and the military would comply with the order.

Jeenbekov has faced calls to step down from hundreds of protesters who stormed government buildings the night after Sunday’s parliamentary vote was reportedly swept by pro-government parties. The demonstrators also freed former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in June on charges of corruption and abuse of office that he and his supporters described as a political vendetta by Jeenbekov.

The turmoil marks a third time in 15 years that protesters have moved to topple a government in Kyrgyztsan, a Central Asian nation of 6.5 million that is one of the poorest to emerge from the former Soviet Union.

Like in the uprisings that ousted Kyrgyz presidents in 2005 and 2010, the current protests have been driven by clan rivalries that play a key role in the country’s politics.

After an initial attempt to break up protesters immediately after the vote, police have pulled back and refrained from intervening with the demonstrations. Residents of the capital began forming vigilante groups to prevent looting that marked previous uprisings in the country.

Under pressure from protesters, the Central Election Commission has overturned the parliamentary vote results and protest leaders have moved quickly to form a new government. An emergency parliament session on Tuesday named lawmaker Sadyr Zhaparov as a new prime minister, but the move was immediately contested by other protest groups, plunging the country into political chaos.

Atambayev spoke to demonstrators who flooded central Bishkek on Friday, urging them to refrain from violence.

“I’m against using force, everything should be done by peaceful means,” he said.

Soon after he spoke, supporters of Zhaparov assailed Atambayev’s supporters, hurling stones and bottles.

Jeenbekov has used infighting between his foes to dig in. He said Thursday he may consider stepping down, but only after the political situation stabilizes.

The president met with the new chief of the military General Staff Friday, saying that he relies on the armed forces to help restore order.

“We must quickly take the situation under control,” Jeenbekov said. “City residents shouldn’t fall victims of political passions.”

Kyrgyzstan is strategically located on the border with China and once was home to a U.S. air base used for refuelling and logistics for the war in Afghanistan. The country is a member of Russia-dominated economic and security alliances, hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s economic support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired Friday’s session of his Security Council to discuss the situation in Kyrgyzstan, among other issues.

“It was noted that it’s necessary to quickly stabilize the situation to prevent it from sliding into chaos,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the meeting.

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