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Former Presidential Candidate Babanov Returns To Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Opposition Politician Returns From Self-Imposed Exile
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WATCH: Kyrgyz Opposition Politician Returns From Self-Imposed Exile

BISHKEK -- A former Kyrgyz presidential candidate who fled the country amid a criminal probe has returned home from his self-imposed exile.

Omurbek Babanov returned to Kyrgyzstan from Moscow on August 9, a day after former President Almazbek Atambaev was arrested and charged with corruption following almost two days of deadly resistance.

"The integrity of Kyrgyzstan, the unity of the people, and the welfare of Kyrgyzstan are very important. I have always respected the law," Babanov, the leader of the Respublika (Republic) party, said as he thanked hundreds of his supporters who greeted him at the Bishkek airport.

A businessman who finished second in the October 2017 presidential election, Babanov left the country after authorities launched an investigation into charges that he incited ethnic hatred during the campaign. On August 8, the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said the case against Babanov had not been closed.

Babanov has alleged the vote was marred by violations.

Limited to a single six-year term by the constitution, Atambaev tapped President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, his former prime minister, as his favored successor in the election.

But the two have had a public falling out and have criticized each other for more than a year.

Jeenbekov signed a law in mid-May that allowed former heads of state to be prosecuted if they lose their formal status as an ex-president.

In June, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to lift Atambaev's immunity, clearing a path for his prosecution on charges of corruption.

Atambaev rejected all accusations leveled against him, and refused to cooperate with officials who served him subpoenas for questioning in an unspecified investigation.

The confrontation turned violent on August 7, when one police officer was killed in a bloody standoff between Atambaev, his supporters, and special forces who raided the former president's home in an attempt to arrest him.

A day later Atambaev peacefully surrendered. In addition to the dead police officer, more than 100 people were injured in the skirmishes between Atambaev's supporters and security officials.

In an August 8 announcement setting up Babanov's return, the Respublika party said in a statement that Babanov hopes "to solve differences" between Jeenbekov and Atambaev "in a peaceful way."