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Kyrgyz Protesters Rally For Third Day For Release Of Detained Opposition Leader

  • RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Kyrgyz opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev (file photo)

Kyrgyz opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Hundreds of protesters have demonstrated for a third day in central Bishkek to call for the release of opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party leader Omurbek Tekebaev.

But with security tight in Kyrgyzstan's capital for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the demonstrators who rallied for Tekebaev's release on February 28 were prevented from protesting on Bishkek's main Ala-Too Square.

Instead, they marched near a detention center of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) where Tekebaev is being held while a fraud and corruption investigation against him continues.

Pretrial Custody

Their demonstration came a day after a Bishkek court on February 27 ordered Tekebaev to be held in pretrial custody until April 25, despite the parliamentary immunity he is meant to have as a lawmaker and leader of the Ata-Meken parliamentary faction.

Members of Tekebaev's Ata-Meken party and other demonstrators have vowed to continue protesting every day until Tekebaev is released, saying he is being targeted by politically motivated allegations that are aimed at preventing him from running in Kyrgyzstan's November 19 presidential election.

WATCH: Protesters Demand Kyrgyz Oppositionist's Release (February 27)

But President Almazbek Atambaev said during a February 28 press conference in Bishkek with Putin that the allegations against Tekebaev are "not politically motivated."

In Washington, a U.S. State Department official told RFE/RL on February 28 that Washington was "aware of the arrest of prominent opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev and the protests surrounding his detainment."

When asked if U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is concerned about the detention of a leading opposition figure in Kyrgyzstan who is meant to have parliamentary immunity, the State Department official said: "We refer you to the government of the Kyrgyz Republic for information on the details of this case."

ANALYSIS: Omurbek Tekebaev, Political Pugilist At Center Of Kyrgyzstan's Storm

Almabet Shykmamatov, Ata-Meken's acting parliamentary faction leader while Tekebaev is in custody, told RFE/RL on February 28 that lawmakers from Ata-Meken will make an "official political statement" about the case at a parliamentary session in Bishkek on March 1.

UKMK agents detained Tekebaev on February 26 at Bishkek International Airport as he was returning from a Vienna meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Bribery Case

Although Tekebaev has not been formally charged, he is being investigated in a corruption and fraud case related to a $1 million bribe he allegedly received from a Russian businessman while serving as deputy prime minister.

Tekebaev was a political ally of Atambaev until the summer of 2016 when the Kyrgyz president proposed constitutional amendments -- approved in a December referendum -- that could keep him and his allies in power indefinitely.

Atambaev is barred by the country's 2010 constitution from seeking a second term of office in Kyrgyzstan's November 19 presidential election.

His 2016 amendments boosted the powers of the prime minister, prompting speculation that Atambaev could be trying to position himself to become the next prime minister or to install a political ally in that role.

The 58-year-old Tekebaev is the third member of Ata-Meken to be detained by authorities for questioning in recent weeks as part of the alleged corruption probe.

Earlier in February, authorities also detained Shykmamatov and parliamentary deputy Aida Salyanova for questioning.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Carl Schreck in Washington
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