Kyrgyzstan annuls parliamentary election results amid unrest

MOSCOW (AP) — Officials in Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday nullified the results of a weekend parliamentary election after mass protests erupted in the capital of Bishkek and other cities, with opposition supporters seizing government buildings overnight and demanding a new vote.

Hundreds of people were injured, one fatally. Members of several opposition parties announced plans to oust the president and form a new government in the Central Asian country.

The decision to cancel the results of Sunday’s vote was made to “prevent tension,” Central Election Commission head Nurzhan Shaildabekova told the Interfax news agency.

Protests broke out in Bishkek and elsewhere after authorities announced early returns in favor of two parties, one of which is said be closely aligned with President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and another linked to a former top customs official, amid reports of vote-buying and other election fraud.

The country of 6.5 million, one of the poorest to emerge from the former Soviet Union, is strategically located on the border with China and once was home to a U.S. air base that was used for refueling and logistics for the war in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan also hosts a Russian air base and maintains close ties with Moscow.

Supporters of a dozen opposition parties took to the streets Monday, demanding a new election. Police dispersed crowds with water cannons, tear gas and flash grenades. About 590 people were injured and one person was killed, the Interfax news agency reported, citing Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry.

The violent crackdown failed to halt the unrest, however, and protesters broke into the government complex that houses both parliament and the president’s office. A fire broke out in the parliament building but was quickly extinguished, and local media reported some offices were looted.

Other protesters went to Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee of National Security, demanding to free former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was convicted on corruption charges earlier this year and sentenced to over 11 years in prison. Security officers freed Atambayev after negotiations with the protesters.

Members of several opposition parties announced plans to oust Jeenbekov and form a new government.

“We intend to seek the dismissal of Sooronbai Jeenbekov from his post,” Maksat Mamytkanov, a member of the Chon Kazat party, told Interfax, adding that opposition parties also insist on adopting a new constitution.

Zhanar Akayev of the Ata Meken opposition party was quoted by the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as saying that “a new prime minister and the people’s government need to be appointed,” and then “a popular election” needs to be held.

Lawmakers later announced a candidate for prime minister and parliament speaker, although it was unclear whether the moves were legal under the constitution.

Jeenbekov urged opposition leaders to “calm their supporters down and take them away” from the streets.

“I call on all (political) forces to put the fate of the country above their political ambitions and return to (acting) within the law,” he said.

Several opposition parties formed what they called a coordination council to facilitate a transition of power, while several others refused to recognize the council as a legitimate body representing the opposition.

The mayors of Bishkek and Jalal-Abad, the country’s third-largest city, resigned. The country’s Finance Ministry issued a statement on its website, saying that it “recognized the power of the people” and halted all of its financial operations “until further notice from the legitimate authorities.”

Parliament announced an emergency session to discuss the crisis. Local media reported that lawmakers failed to get a quorum, but a few dozen of them gathered anyway and, with proxy votes from other lawmakers, approved new appointments to some top government posts.

They announced the resignation of Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov and gave preliminary approval to Sadyr Zhaparov, a former lawmaker released from prison overnight, as his replacement.

They also named Myktybek Abdyldayev as the new speaker of parliament. Abdyldayev later said Zhaparov’s candidacy is to be approved by parliament after he presents his proposals for a new cabinet as well as his policies.

Boronov himself hasn’t made any statements about resigning yet, and it wasn’t immediately clear if the changes by the lawmakers were legal. Jeenbekov also hasn’t commented on the moves, saying in an interview released Tuesday evening only that he was “ready” for talks with the opposition “as a legitimate president.”