MOSCOW (AP) — Police in Kyrgyzstan detained the Central Asian nation’s ex-president Thursday following violent clashes with his supporters, a day after a previous attempt to arrest him left one policeman dead and nearly 80 people injured.
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.
Almazbek Atambayev, who was in office from 2011 to 2017, accused his successor and protégé, current President 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.
The first attempt by police to arrest Atambayev at his residence outside the capital failed late Wednesday after his supporters rushed to his defense and clashed with police. A police officer later died of his injuries at a hospital and 79 people were injured, according to official statements.
Atambayev’s supporters took six policemen as hostages, but released them Thursday.
Police returned in bigger numbers Thursday and used water cannons and stun grenades to overwhelm Atambayev’s supporters and arrest him. Atambayev was driven to the headquarters of the State National Security Committee in the capital.
About 1,000 Atambayev supporters later arrived in Bishkek and tried to rally outside the presidential office, but police quickly dispersed them with tear gas and stun grenades. Police also tightened controls on the city’s fringes and clashed with other pro-Atambayev supporters who were trying to drive into the capital.
Shopping malls and other businesses shut down Thursday, reflecting fears of widespread looting that accompanied earlier violence.
Atambayev dismissed a slew of charges, including corruption and the expropriation of property, as “absurd.” He said he fired several shots when police came to arrest him Wednesday, adding that he “tried not to hit people.”
Addressing an emergency parliament session called to discuss the crisis, Jeenbekov said Atambayev should face charges for firing at police.
Russia, Kyrgyzstan’s close ally, has called for restraint.
Russian foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin warned that the tensions have reached a “dangerous scale” and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the two sides 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.
The violence in Kyrgyzstan comes a day before prime ministers of the Eurasian Economic Community, a Russia-dominated economic group, are set to meet in Kyrgyzstan. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he would discuss the situation with Kyrgyz leaders and voiced hope that the tensions wouldn’t affect the meeting.
“It would be very bad if such developments lead to political and economic instability in the country,” he told Russian reporters after arriving in Kyrgyzstan. “Kyrgyzstan has already exhausted a limit for revolutions in this century.”