BISHKEK/PRAGUE; May 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Akmatbaev's lawyer, Rysbek Nagaev, broke the news of his client's killing this afternoon to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.
"Rysbek has been killed," he said. "I've been told he was shot while leaving a mosque. I am going now to [Akmatbaev's home province of] Issyk-Kul."
In subsequent comments to Kyrgyzstan's independent AKIpress news agency, one of Akmatbaev's friends, Ismail Kocharov, also confirmed the news.
Akmatbaev was gunned down in the village of Kokzhar, on the outskirts of Bishkek. Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that he was attacked by a solitary gunman who also wounded two passersby with automatic-rifle fire.
Kyrgyz authorities offered no immediate comment on the killing.
Akmatbaev won the most votes in a recent parliamentary by-election in which he was competing as an opposition candidate.
He garnered 79 percent of the vote in the April 9 ballot in his hometown of Balykchy. But Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission refused to award him a parliamentary seat, citing an ongoing murder investigation and a criminal trial against him.
Election Commission Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov later claimed Akmatbaev had threatened to kill him unless he declared him the election winner.
Akmatbaev was a near-legendary figure in Kyrgyzstan and, allegedly, one of the country's most prominent criminal bosses.
His brother, Tynychbek, died under mysterious circumstances in October while visiting a penal colony outside Bishkek during an inmate riot. Akmatbaev at the time accused Prime Minister Feliks Kulov of complicity in his brother's death and subsequently organized a rally in Bishkek to demand that Kulov step down.
But new charges emerged against Akmatbaev in connection with the death in 2003 of Khavaji Zaurbekov, the brother-in-law of an ethnic Chechen criminal boss. Akmatbaev was eventually acquitted. Kyrgyz media speculated that the death of his brother might have been linked to that three-year-old affair.
Akmatbaev's killing comes as the opposition is stepping up its pressure on President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
On April 29, some 10,000 protesters gathered in central Bishkek to demand an end to corruption and nepotism in government circles. Some of the demonstrators also called on Bakiev to step down, accusing him of betraying his preelection pledges.
The Kyrgyz president has faced a recent exodus of government officials.
On April 21, Social Democratic Party Chairman Almazbek Atambaev resigned as minister of industry, trade, and tourism.
Today, National Security Minister Tashtemir Aitbaev and State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov stepped down. In his resignation letter to Bakiev, the outgoing state secretary cited a need to "maintain stability" in the country.
Bakiev named his personal security and defense adviser, Busurmankul Tabaldiev, a career security officer who briefly occupied the post of prosecutor-general after the change of government a year ago, as national security minister. He also appointed Deputy Prime Minister Adakham Madumarov to take the post of state secretary.
The resignations had long been demanded by the opposition. In comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, presidential spokesman Nadyr Momunov conceded a link between today's resignations and the recent opposition-led protests. But he denied that Bakiev had yielded to his political opponents.
"The organizers of the April 29 demonstration had been demanding the resignation of these people. They had made their grievances known," Momunov said. "But it is not right to claim that the president has accepted their ultimatum and agreed [to the resignation demands]. It shows that [President Bakiev] took a step of compromise. It is a sign that he is ready for cooperation and dialogue."
Bakiev today made other personnel changes in his government and administration. He removed the head of his administration, Usen Sydykov, and appointed him state counselor. Bakiev also appointed a new acting first deputy prime minister, Daniyar Usenov, today. Usenov's predecessor, Medetbek Karimkulov, was appointed acting industry, trade, and tourism minister to replace Atambaev.
Bakiev also sacked Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anarbek Anarbaev, temporarily replacing him with the first deputy head of his administration, Azim Isabekov.