Kyrgyzstan’s Former President Arrested After Deadly Encounter

Updated at 11:20 a.m. ET

Kyrgyz police detained former President Almazbek Atambayev on Thursday after an earlier arrest attempt in which security forces were forced back by a hail of bullets from political supporters barricaded inside his rural home near the capital, Bishkek.

In the first arrest operation, which began late Wednesday, gunfire from inside Atambayev’s residence in Koi-Tash, south of the capital, was directed at the elite security forces. At least one of the soldiers was killed and six others taken hostage, officials said. Dozens were wounded in the firefight, according to hospital officials who spoke to The Associated Press.

The 62-year-old Atambayev, who served as president of the Central Asian country from 2011 to 2017, has been accused by his successor and former ally, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, of a range of crimes, including corruption and illegal land purchases.

The Associated Press reported that Atambayev said he had fired several shots during Wednesday’s arrest attempt, but had “tried not to hit people.” Jeenbekov told an emergency session of parliament that Atambayev should face charges for firing at police.

In June, parliament voted to strip Atambayev of the immunity he had enjoyed as a former president. After the vote, he told journalists that he was “not afraid of anything in the world” and vowed to “stand to the end.”

The incident only adds to the perception of instability in the impoverished former Soviet republic that remains close to Moscow. Since it became independent in 1991, land-locked Kyrgyzstan has struggled to develop amid economic and ethnic tensions that have divided the population.

In the post-independence era, two presidents have been ousted in violent revolts — Askar Akayev in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution” and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.

After Atambayev’s immunity was rescinded, he repeatedly rebuffed requests from authorities to be questioned in connection with the corruption allegations and refused to obey a government subpoena.

In July, he met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the meeting, however, Putin spoke of the need for political stability in Kyrgyzstan and said “everyone should unite around the sitting president.”

Despite Kyrgyzstan’s close ties to Russia, for 13 years it hosted a U.S. military installation at Manas International Airport, near Bishkek, which was used to resupply American forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. handed back the base to the Kyrgyz military in June 2014.

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