2020-10-11 › A Convicted Kidnapper Is Chosen to Lead Government of Kyrgyzstan
Lawmakers in Central Asia's only democracy selected a man sprung from jail by protesters just days ago in an effort to end days of violent political unrest
MOSCOW — A man who had been convicted of kidnapping was chosen to be the prime minister of Kyrgyzstan on Saturday after feuding politicians agreed on a new government in an effort to end nearly a week of violent turmoil in the Central Asian country.
An agreement to put the government under the man, Sadyr Japarov, who was sprung from jail this past week by anti-government protesters, should help calm street violence. But it stirred alarm in some quarters that criminal elements had prevailed in a power struggle set off by disputed parliamentary election results last Sunday.
Russia, struggling with a rash of unrest across the former Soviet Union, including protests in neighboring Belarus and fierce fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has a military base in Kyrgyzstan but has mostly stood aside from the political chaos in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. Moscow reached out to a senior security official offering help, but that official was then promptly fired.
On Friday, Kyrgyzstan’s embattled president, Sooronbay Jeenbekov,
declared a state of emergency
in Bishkek, ordering troops onto the streets and confining residents to their homes. “The threat of losing our country is real,” he warned.
Violence continued, however, fueled largely by Mr. Japarov’s supporters, who hurled rocks and other projectiles at the followers of a rival would-be prime minister,
Omurbek Babanov, and attacked journalists. Several shots were fired.
The unrest began with a wave of public anger over the victory of pro-government parties last Sunday in a parliamentary election tainted by credible allegations of widespread vote-buying. Protesters stormed jails and government buildings, sending the president into hiding.
The election results were then quickly annulled, opening the way for a new vote, but the turmoil escalated as rival opposition politicians began fighting for government posts, unleashing mobs of young men to confront each other on the street.
Arkady Dubnov, a Central Asia expert in Moscow, said the new prime minister, Mr. Japarov, who just days ago was serving an 11-and-half-year sentence for organizing the 2013 kidnapping of a regional governor, had prevailed “because his supporters turned out to be the strongest.”
It was unclear whether he would serve a full term or be forced to step down once new parliamentary elections are held to replace last week’s annulled vote.
Mr. Japarov, a former member of Parliament for a nationalist party, has insisted that the kidnapping charges against him were politically motivated, a plausible claim in a country where each successive government often jails members of the previous one. Among those freed from prison this past week by protesters were a former president, Almazbek Atambayev, serving an 11-year-sentence for corruption, and two former prime ministers.
Mr. Atambayev, under whose rule Mr. Japarov, the new prime minister, was convicted, was himself back behind bars on Saturday after being detained by security officers in the center of Bishkek. He had said on Friday that he had been the target of a failed assassination attempt after his release from jail.
Mr. Dubnov, the Moscow analyst, said criminal convictions in Kyrgyzstan were frequently tainted by politics but added that, in an impoverished country that sits astride lucrative smuggling routes, “it is very difficult to find a politician who is not connected to crime in some way.”
Residents reached by telephone said Bishkek was mostly calm on Saturday as armed troops set up checkpoints and lawmakers from the previous Parliament gathered at the grand official residence of President Jeenbekov to choose a prime minister.
Mr. Jeenbekov, who vanished from view after protesters stormed his office, re-emerged on Friday to take the lead in trying to calm the crisis, firing the previous government and pledging to resign once a new cabinet was formed.
The departure of Mr. Jeenbekov, who was elected in 2017, would mark the third time in 15 years that violent protests have toppled the president in Kyrgyzstan, the only country in Central Asia with a modicum of democracy but one prone to instability because of deep poverty, clan rivalries and divisions between north and south.
Adding to perennial political tension has been rivalry between the prime minister, nominally the senior figure in what is supposed to be a parliamentary system, and the president, who commands the armed forces and often dominates decision making. Instead of stepping down as promised, President Jeenbekov on Saturday issued a series of decrees reshuffling the leadership of the security services.
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