Opposition in Kyrgyzstan claims power after storming government buildings

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said the country was facing an attempted coup d'etat.
President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said the country was facing an attempted coup d'etat.PHOTO: REUTERS

BISHKEK (REUTERS) - Opposition groups in Kyrgyzstan said they had seized power in the strategically-important Central Asian country on Tuesday (Oct 6) after taking control of government buildings in the capital during protests over a parliamentary election.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said the country, which hosts a Russian air base and a large Canadian-controlled gold mine, was facing an attempted coup d'etat.  

He called for calm and ordered security forces not to open fire on protesters after overnight unrest in which the government said one person was killed at 590 wounded.

Officials said later the vote would be rerun, but it was not clear who would run it.

Burnt cars littered Bishkek, the capital, on Tuesday morning after protesters took control of the main government building, known as the White House, which briefly caught fire before emergency services put out the blaze.

Debris from inside, including government papers, and office furniture, was strewn outside after protesters ransacked parts of it.

Kyrgyzstan borders China and is a close ally of Russia and has long been a platform for geopolitical competition between Moscow, Washington and Beijing. It has a history of political volatility - two of its presidents have been toppled by revolts in the past 15 years.

The opposition said it had set up a coordination council and was discussing the line-up of a provisional government.

"The leaders of parties that took part in the election have assumed responsibility for restoring public order," the council said.

Opposition groups also had freed Almazbek Atambayev, a former president jailed on corruption charges after falling out with Mr Jeenbekov.

Mr Atambayev was not named to any role, however, and Mr Jeenbekov showed no immediate signs of relinquishing power. 

The Cabinet, which operates out of a building separate from the White House, said it continued to function although Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov has not appeared in public since the unrest began. 

The central election commission said it had annulled the results of the election, meaning a new vote would have to be held shortly. 

Parliament said it would try to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday after lawmakers failed to gather a quorum on Tuesday. 

Several opposition politicians urged them to install a provisional cabinet to legitimise a transfer of power. 

Interior Minister Kashkar Junushaliyev did not show up for work on Tuesday, a ministry spokesman said, saying that Mr Kursan Asanov, an opposition politician and a former senior security official, had taken over as acting interior minister.

 
 
 

Police had been ordered to ensure citizens' safety and prevent clashes and looting, the same spokesman said. Meanwhile, the second-largest gold deposit in Kyrgyzstan, Jeruy, was shut down by unidentified people on Tuesday, its Russian-owned operator said.

The Russian embassy to Kyrgyzstan said it supported resolving the situation in the country through legal means while ensuring stability and people’s safety.

CONTESTED VOTE

Trouble erupted on Monday after police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people demonstrating against the results of a parliamentary election on Sunday, which they demanded be annulled.

Western observers said the election, which appeared to have handed most seats to two establishment parties supporting closer links between the former Soviet republic and Russia, had been marred by vote buying.

One of the parties was close to Mr Jeenbekov, the president.

As well as storming the White House, which houses both the president and Parliament, protesters took over several other buildings, including the mayor’s office. 

They appointed their own acting head of national security, acting prosecutor general and a commandant of Bishkek, although there were no indications of how much power they wielded.

Protesters also freed several former senior officials jailed under Mr Jeenbekov, including former prime minister Sapar Isakov and Atambayev's former chief of staff, Farid Niyazov.

Several provincial governors have resigned, according to local media reports which said public rallies had begun on Tuesday in several provincial centres, most of them anti-government.

Mr Jeenbekov's supporters were gathering in the southern city of Osh, the same reports said, where his brother Asylbek Jeenbekov called for unity and order.