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Fugitive Former Presidential Candidate Babanov Cancels Return To Kyrgyzstan


Omurbek Babanov speaks at a news conference in Bishkek, October 16, 2017

A former Kyrgyz presidential candidate who fled the country amid a criminal probe has canceled plans to return to the country.

Omurbek Babanov said April 13 he had nixed the trip amid concerns "third forces" could exploit his return to Bishkek to stir up unrest. He also called on supporters to cancel rallies in his support.

"I ask that today's meeting be canceled. I am immensely grateful to you, dear people of Kyrgyzstan. God willing, I will return at some point in the future," he said in an interview shown on his YouTube channel. "It's better that I sacrifice my name than create conditions for third forces that will pose threats to your life."

He gave no further details as to what he meant by "third forces" or the unspecified threats.

Earlier, Babanov had posted on Facebook that he had a plane ticket from Moscow to Bishkek and planned to arrive in the Kyrgyz capital early on April 13.

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.

Officials said Babanov was suspected of plotting riots and the seizure of power in the Central Asian country.

In his statement on Facebook, and a TV interview broadcast on April 10, Babanov said he was returning to the country voluntarily.

“I am returning on my own free will. Why would they arrest me?” he told the TV station NTS. “I’m not running away from anything. I have nothing to hide.”

In the 2017 vote, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the ruling party candidate, won the election with backing from outgoing leader Almazbek Atambaev and took office in November.

Babanov had alleged that the vote was marred by violations.

International observers praised the vote as competitive and transparent, but said that "numerous and significant problems were noted" during the count and that the "misuse of public resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remain a concern."