Security forces storm home of Kyrgyzstan ex-president Almazbek Atambayev

Former president Almazbek Atambayev saw his immunity lifted by parliament in June as the authorities seek to prosecute him on corruption charges.
Former president Almazbek Atambayev saw his immunity lifted by parliament in June as the authorities seek to prosecute him on corruption charges.PHOTO: REUTERS

BISHKEK (AFP) - Kyrgyz special forces stormed the compound of former president Almazbek Atambayev on Wednesday (Aug 7), injuring some of his supporters, as tensions between him and his successor Sooronbai Jeenbekov mount, threatening to spark a political crisis in the fragile Central Asian state.

Mr Atambayev, who ruled Kyrgyzstan from 2011 to 2017 before handing over to Mr Jeenbekov, saw his immunity lifted in June as the authorities seek to prosecute him on corruption charges.

The former leader has increased security at his estate of Koi-Tash outside Bishkek in recent weeks, as tensions between him and Mr Jeenbekov mount.

Close supporters of Mr Atambayev said that he had still not been arrested despite what Kyrgyzstan's national security committee (GKNB) called a "special operation to detain former president Almazbek Atambayev".

The GKNB said that special forces were armed "only with rubber bullets".

Kyrgyzstan's health ministry said that two people were hospitalised with injuries to the chest from rubber bullets.

Mr Mirbek Aitikeyev, an eyewitness at Koi-Tash who broadcast footage from the compound live on Facebook, told AFP some of the former president's loyalists had seized weapons from special forces, forcing a withdrawal.

"His supporters stole weapons from the special forces, who retreated under the onslaught of the crowd. Atambayev is still at his home... there are rumours that additional forces will be sent. The people here are making preparations," Mr Aitikeyev said.

Footage from the residence shared online showed a building in flames.

Following the lifting of his immunity by parliament in June, Mr Atambayev vowed to "stand to the end" against the charges, calling the administration of Mr Jeenbekov a "mafia clan."

The two men were once friends and Mr Atambayev backed Mr Jeenbekov's candidacy in the 2017 vote, but they fell out just months after Mr Jeenbekov's inauguration as Mr Atambayev publicly criticised his successor.

He has maintained that the parliamentary vote to lift his immunity was unconstitutional.

Mr Jeenbekov's office announced on Wednesday that the president had cut short his holiday at a popular lakeside resort in the mountainous country amid the chaos.

Footage shot inside the compound by Mr Aitikeyev on Wednesday evening showed Mr Atambayev meeting his supporters as usual, when suddenly sounds of gunshots were audible as people screamed and scattered for cover.

The footage showed several people injured and bleeding and armed masked people in military fatigues and helmets running through the gates.

"Don't shoot at people!" somebody screamed.

Kyrgyz media said the road leading to the Koi-Tash residence has been blocked and an angry crowd has formed next to the police cars.

Mr Atambayev became Kyrgyzstan's first elected president to hand over power peacefully in 2017, following revolutions in 2005 and 2010.

Mr Jeenbekov has accused Mr Atambayev of seeking to control politics from the comfort of retirement.

The conflict between the two men, both of whom have been accused of using law enforcement agencies to get rid of political opponents, threatens to provoke a political crisis in the fragile Central Asian state.

Mr Atambayev last month travelled to Russia and met President Vladimir Putin, who pledged his support to Kyrgyzstan but advised "everyone to unite around the current president and help him develop the country".

The conflict in Kyrgyzstan is likely to be watched with apprehension in Russia and China, whose political and economic interests in the country deepened during Mr Atambayev's rule.