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Kyrgyzstan’s president declares state of emergency amid protests

Protesters in the central square of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday
Protesters at a rally in the central square of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday.
(Vladimir Voronin / Associated Press)

The embattled president of Kyrgyzstan ordered a nearly two-week state of emergency Friday in the capital, Bishkek, in a bid to end the political turmoil sparked by a disputed parliamentary election.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov decreed that the state of emergency, which starts at 8 p.m. Friday and runs through 8 a.m. Oct. 21, could include a curfew and travel restrictions. He also ordered the military to deploy troops to Bishkek to enforce the measure.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether police and the military would comply with the order.

Jeenbekov has faced calls to step down from hundreds of protesters who stormed government buildings the night after pro-government parties were reported to have won a sweeping victory in Sunday’s parliamentary vote.

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Demonstrators also freed former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in June on charges of corruption and abuse of office. Atambayev and his supporters describe the charges as part of a political vendetta by Jeenbekov.

The turmoil marks the third time in 15 years that protesters have moved to topple the government in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation of 6.5 million people that is one of the poorest to emerge from the former Soviet Union.

Officials in Kyrgyzstan nullified results of parliamentary elections after mass protests erupted and opposition supporters seized government buildings.

As with the uprisings that ousted Kyrgyz presidents in 2005 and 2010, the current protests have been driven by clan rivalries that play a key role in the country’s politics.

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After an initial attempt to break up protests immediately after the vote, police have pulled back and refrained from intervening in the demonstrations. Bishkek residents began forming vigilante groups to prevent the looting that marked previous uprisings in the country.

Under pressure from protesters, the Central Election Commission has overturned the parliamentary vote results and protest leaders have moved quickly to form a new government. An emergency parliament session on Tuesday named lawmaker Sadyr Zhaparov as a new prime minister, but the move was immediately contested by other protest groups, plunging the country into chaos.

Atambayev spoke to demonstrators who flooded central Bishkek on Friday, urging them to refrain from violence.

About 100,000 demonstrators marched in Belarus’ capital calling for the authoritarian president’s ouster, some wearing cardboard crowns to ridicule him

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“I’m against using force. Everything should be done by peaceful means,” he said.

Shortly after he spoke, supporters of Zhaparov attacked pro-Atambayev demonstrators on Bishkek’s central square, hurling stones and bottles. A man with a pistol fired several shots at Atambayev’s car as it sped away, but the former president was unhurt. Another politician was badly injured amid the clashes.

Jeenbekov has used infighting among his foes to dig in. He said Thursday that he might consider stepping down, but only after the political situation stabilized.

The president met with the new chief of the military general staff on Friday, saying that he relied on the armed forces to help restore order.

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“We must quickly take the situation under control,” Jeenbekov said. “City residents shouldn’t fall victim to political passions.”

Kyrgyzstan is strategically located on the border with China and once was home to a U.S. air base used for refueling and logistics for the war in Afghanistan. The country is a member of Russian-dominated economic and security alliances, hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s economic support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired Friday’s session of his Security Council and discussed the situation in Kyrgyzstan, among other issues.

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“It was noted that it’s necessary to quickly stabilize the situation to prevent it from sliding into chaos,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the meeting.


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