Kyrgyzstan — After nearly 24 hours of bloodshed, death, and tense confrontations with state security forces, former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev simply walked out of his house and into a police van to end the violent standoff.
The 62-year-old was arrested on August 8 by police who the night before failed to capture him after raiding his residential compound on the outskirts of Bishkek.
Atambaev faces five counts of criminally abusing his office when he was Kyrgyzstan’s president from 2011 to 2017 — including corruption, abuse of office, and illegally enriching himself.
He is currently being held at the building of the State National Security Service (GKNB).
Following Atambaev’s detention, hundreds of his supporters gathered in front of the parliament building in the center of the capital, some of them throwing stones at police.
Security forces later broke up the crowd using stun grenades and tear gas.
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arrived in the country for a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russia-dominated economic group.
He said he would discuss the situation with Kyrgyz leaders and voiced hope that the tensions will not lead to “political and, therefore, economic instability in the country”.
The violence of the past 24 hours likely means more charges are coming against Atambaev.
“By putting up fierce armed resistance to the investigative measures undertaken within the framework of the law, Almazbek Atambaev gravely trampled upon the constitution and laws of Kyrgyzstan,” President Sooronbai Jeenbekov told parliament during a crisis meeting as the drama unfolded.
“If before yesterday [August 7] Atambayev was summoned to the investigation as a witness, now he will be treated as someone accused of committing a serious crime”, he added.
Atambaev’s rejection of the charges was illustrated by his failing to answer subpoenas for questioning three times.
Under Kyrgyz law, a person who refuses to comply with two subpoenas can be forcibly detained for questioning.
That set the stage for the storming of the compound on August 7, where his supporters and police clashed for hours, leaving one officer dead and 80 people injured.
“Yesterday, they did not say they came to take me for questioning, they came like gangsters and started shooting at the people. For one or two months I have been saying that I will use arms to protect myself if somebody dares to trespass my home. I have a pistol that I received as a gift and a rifle,” Atambaev said earlier on August 8.
Kyrgyzstan saw a smooth and peaceful transfer of power from Atambaev, a northerner, to southerner Jeenbekov, which was welcomed by the international community after presidential changes — in 2005 and 2010 — came after violent rioting.
Once close allies, relations between the two soured after the state prosecutor charged Atambaev on the basis of accusations leveled against him by a legislature loyal to Jeenbekov.
Several of Atambaev’s close allies had already been arrested on corruption charges and the two former friends began trading accusations of incompetence and a lack of professionalism.
After parliament on June 27 voted to strip immunity from prosecution for former presidents, the embattled Atambaev retreated to spend most of his time at his residential compound, ominously warning that he had weapons.
His lawyer has called the immunity vote unconstitutional.
The failure to catch Atambaev during the storming of the complex was a humiliating setback for the police – and the government – who regrouped with hundreds of reinforcements for a second, and ultimately successful push into the sprawling residence.
Police launched tear gas and stun grenades as they moved forward, while gunshots sporadically rang out.
Outside the compound, hundreds of Atambaev’s supporters waged running battles with police forces.
Sandbags and iron gates in doorways stood in stark contrast to the opulent grand rooms decorated with works of art where the six police officers were held hostage through the night before their release around midday on August 8.
Some rooms held caches of automatic weapons and magazines of bullets. Others bore the scars of battle, with broken furniture and personal items strewn about.
Meanwhile, inside the main residence, a relaxed Atambaev, dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, negotiated his arrest.
“I am not worried about myself, you can even shoot me now here if you will, just do not touch my guys [supporters],” Atambaev shouts to Deputy Interior Minister Kursan Asanov, who is on a different floor of the house.
“We will not. I give you my word,” Asanov responds.
The two continued to negotiate, with Asanov assuring Atambaev that it will be noted he turned himself in and that no one will be harmed.
Atambaev eventually changes into a white-collared shirt and then looks for some personal items to take with him, settling on a small presidential symbol on a chain that he is allowed to take from a small box in a safe.
Asanov heads to another room where he counts 14 assault rifles, 36 cartridges filled with bullets, and two pistols.
With the weapons counted, the two men, followed by several others, walk down the stairs and out a door straight into the police van, which quickly sped away in a convoy before people milling around realized what was happening.
By Dominic C. Odoh
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