Kyrgyzstan’s ex-president urged his supporters Thursday to push for the ouster of the Central Asian nation’s government, following a failed police attempt to arrest him that left one policeman dead and more than 50 people injured.
Almazbek Atambayev, who was in office from 2011 to 2017, accused his successor and one-time protégé Sooronbai Jeenbekov of fabricating false criminal charges against him to stifle criticism. He urged his supporters to rally Thursday in the capital, Bishkek, to demand Jeenbekov’s resignation.
Police attempts to arrest Atambayev at his residence outside the capital failed Wednesday after his supporters rushed to his defense and clashed with police. A police officer later died of injuries at a hospital and more than 50 people were injured, according to official statements.
Atambayev’s supporters took six policemen as hostages, but released them Thursday.
The violence has raised the threat of a new round of turmoil in the ex-Soviet nation, which borders China and hosts a Russian military air base. Kyrgyzstan’s first two presidents after independence were both driven from office by riots.
Shopping malls and other businesses began shutting down Thursday ahead of the planned rallies, reflecting fears of widespread looting that accompanied earlier violence.
Atambayev dismissed a slew of charges, including corruption and the expropriation of property, as “absurd.”
Atambayev said he fired several shots when police came to arrest him Wednesday, adding that he “tried not to hit people.”
Officials said that police fired only rubber bullets, and the chief of the nation’s security agency voiced regret that he didn’t order his men to fire to kill.
Kyrgyzstan’s close ally, Russia, has called for restraint.
Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin warned that the tensions have reached a “dangerous scale” and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the conflicting parties to show “responsibility and common sense.”
Atambayev traveled to Russia last month and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an apparent attempt to rally support, but the Russian leader later reaffirmed that Moscow was committed to working with Jeenbekov.