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Kyrgyzstan: Lawmaker's Arrest Shocks, Despite Early Release

Omurbek Tekebaev on the floor of the Kyrgyz parliament (file photo) (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, September 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- An opposition leader and former speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament was released from Polish custody today, two days after he was arrested at Warsaw airport when Polish authorities found heroin in one of his suitcases. The details of Omurbek Tekebaev's release are still unclear. But it follows quick efforts by lawmakers and diplomats and protests in southern Kyrgyzstan to ensure his return.

Omurbek Tekebaev's brother, Asylbek, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that his brother was freed today after spending more than 24 hours at a Polish detention facility.

Opposition lawmaker Melis Eshimkanov confirmed that Tekebaev had called him after his release and said Polish authorities apologized over his detention.

Eshimkanov told Kyrgyz news agency that Tekebaev wasted no time in heading for Warsaw's international airport.

Disbelief At Home

He was on his way to an international economic conference in the Polish city of Krynica when he was detained at Warsaw's international airport on September 6.

The arrest sent shock waves through Kyrgyzstan.
There are still too many questions surrounding the affair to expect that political repurcussions will not follow.

President Kurmanbek Bakiev ordered the formation of a 10-member state commission made up of prosecutors and Foreign Ministry representatives to look at the case.

Prime Minister Feliks Kulov issued a statement earlier today saying he was "confident" that Tekebaev was innocent. He also suggested the ex-speaker had been set up.

"I believe -- I am absolutely confident -- that Omurbek Cherkeshevich [Tekebaev] is innocent," Kulov said. "I am 100-percent sure that there has been some dirty provocation. Who did it and for what purpose? I can't say that now, I have no facts."

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry had dispatched its ambassador to Belarus to Warsaw on September 7, and a group of lawyers and consular officials today.

A Kyrgyz Internet news agency, Belyy Parohod, reported that former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev phoned Poland's former president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, and asked him to get personally involved in the case.

Video Evidence?

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said the following day that Polish customs officials found nearly 600 grams of heroin in his luggage.

Tekebaev is an outspoken critic of the Kyrgyz government and a leader of the For Reforms movement.

Opposition politicians and human rights activists have speculated that Tekebaev was the innocent victim of "a provocation."

The Kyrgyz parliament convened an emergency session today to discuss the case.

Suspicions that the drugs might have been planted gained momentum after legislators watched a video of Tekebaev passing through security before his departure from Kyrgyzstan's Manas Airport.

Tayirbek Sarpashev, the chairman of the ad hoc committee in parliament set up to deal with Tekebaev's case, said the video showed a uniformed man leaving the room with Tekebaev's suitcase and returning 14 minutes later.

"The head of the staff that was working at the area for parliamentary deputies [at the airport], took Tekebaev's suitcase and turned to the left," Sarpashev said. "[Then] he was looking around while walking away. He took something from his pocket and put it back [in his pocket] again. It all is recorded on the video. In the direction he went, there is only one room on the second floor. We went there and checked it. [The room] belongs to the security service."

The head of the Kyrgyz border authority, Zakir Tilenov, said the identity of the man who took the suitcase was unclear.

"[After] seeing the video footage that was shown today, I can't tell you unambiguously whether it was a border officer in the customs control area," Tilenov said. "This situation needs to be double-checked, because officers from two agencies -- the State Customs Service and border guards -- work in that area and they have the same uniform -- the same shirts and epaulets."

Hometown Support

Tekebaev supporters in his native Bazarkorgon district in southern Kyrgyzstan today blocked a major highway to the capital, Bishkek, to protest his detention. The crowd of more than 500 people demanded that the government take the arrest seriously and ensure Tekebaev's safe return.

A smaller group of protesters picketed the regional administration building in the southern city of Osh.

A parliamentarian and fellow member of the For Reforms movement, Melis Eshimkanov, suggested prior to Tekebaev's release that the incident would prompt mass demonstrations.

"From [September 11], leaders of the opposition, the For Reforms movement, and the Asaba party led by [Azimbek] Beknazarov, as well as other political forces that are outraged by this act against Tekebaev, are going to hold various political events all over Kyrgyzstan, including political hunger strike and protests," Eshimkanov vowed.

Now that Tekebaev's a free man, those protests are unlikely to materialize. But there are still too many questions surrounding the affair to expect that political repurcussions will not follow.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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