Kyrgyzstan in crisis as former president arrested after taking special forces hostage in botched raid

Atambayev, who was initially wanted for questioning as a witness in an investigation, initially repelled an attack on his compound – REUTERS

Security forces in Kyrgyzstan detained former president Almazbek Atambayev on Thursday after at least one failed attempt that left one person dead.

Atambayev, who was initially wanted for questioning as a witness in an investigation, was on Thursday night being driven away in an unknown direction from his house by security forces, Russia’s RIA news agency cited his lawyer as saying.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov ordered unspecified “urgent measures” on Thursday to maintain the rule of law after a first attempt to capture Atambayev led to violent clashes with his followers.

Kyrgyzstan was on the brink of a full-blown political crisis after special forces failed to capture the former president during a raid on his compound which left one officer dead and a police chief in a critical condition.

The Central Asian state, which has seen two revolutions in less than two decades, has been roiled by a standoff between ex-leader Mr Atambayev and his protege-turned-foe Mr Jeenbekov.

Injured supporters of former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev guard his house Credit:  VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/ AFP

Parliament in June stripped Atambayev of his immunity as a former president and the state prosecutor brought corruption charges against him – moves that supporters of the one-time leader say are politically motivated.

Atambayev has ignored police summonses for questioning and on Wednesday the confrontation escalated when the security service announced an operation to seize him from his compound outside Bishkek, capital of the Muslim-majority nation of six million people.

On Thursday Atambayev announced a rally for later in the day, in the same area of the capital where his supporters gathered at the start of a popular uprising in 2010.

Kyrgyzstan’s people “will never live on their knees, will not be collective farm sheep, will not be slaves of the ruling clan,” he said in a broadcast on the television channel he owns.

Supporters of the former President surround a member of state security forces, who was injured during an operation to detain Atambayev Credit:  VLADIMIR PIROGOV/REUTERS

Atambayev also pledged to release police special forces officers held by his supporters following a night of clashes at his residence in the village of Koi-Tash.

An AFP correspondent saw police and hundreds of Atambayev supporters hurl stones at each other in Koi-Tash late Wednesday, where internet and mobile networks appeared to have been cut by authorities.

The correspondent saw some supporters forcibly disarm and beat special forces officers whom they then took hostage.

The health ministry said a special forces officer had died from a gunshot wound and the head of the Chui province police department was in a critical condition after being concussed during the clashes.

Supporters of the former president celebrate in his private residence after fending off the raid Credit: IGOR KOVALENKO/EPA

The ministry said 52 people had been injured in the clashes, around half of whom were law enforcement.

Early Thursday President Jeenbekov convened a meeting of the state security council, after talks between Atambayev’s representatives and the interior minister broke down.

Jeenbekov said during the meeting that Atambayev had “rudely flouted the Constitution and laws of the Kyrgyz Republic” by resisting detention.

Parliament also called an emergency session.

The standoff has drawn in Russia – the country’s Soviet-era master and traditional political patron – where hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz work as migrant labourers.

Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin met with both Jeenbekov and Atambayev in Moscow in a bid to defuse the confrontation.

Supporters of former Atambayev blockade a street in the village of Koi-Tash – the site of the former president’s residence Credit:  VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP