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Discord Deepens As Kyrgyz Ex-President Atambaev Slams Successor Over Arrests

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (right) and his predecessor Almazbek Atambaev (composite file photo)
Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (right) and his predecessor Almazbek Atambaev (composite file photo)

In a sign of a growing rift between Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and his predecessor, former President Almazbek Atambaev has publicly called the arrests of his associates "a show" orchestrated by the Central Asian nation's current leadership.

In a 95-minute interview aired on Aprel (April) television late on November 19, Atambaev vowed to remain politically active and push for reforms, suggesting that former ally Jeenbekov needs to be reined in and that he will seek to do that.

The sharp words from Atambaev indicate that political tension could increase in the former Soviet republic in which two presidents were pushed from power by street protests in 2005 and 2010.

Atambaev, who left office a year ago and began criticizing his successor in the spring, said that "remarks and recommendations" he gave Jeenbekov in March "have seemingly been ignored."

He said "a frantic campaign of lies and slander against me and members of my family has been unleashed" since a congress of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SPDK) -- which he now heads -- in March.

Atambaev also dismissed an anticorruption campaign announced by Jeenbekov, calling it "just a slogan with no real results."

"In reality it is a show" aimed to create the impression that "a fight against corruption is under way," Atambaev said. "And people buy it because former prime ministers have been locked up, others have been locked up."

He warned that Jeenbekov's politics could "throw Kyrgyzstan back to the era of Kurmanbek Bakiev," a president who was toppled by antigovernment protests in April 2010.

Atambaev vowed to stay in "big politics" in order "to implement constitutional reforms to turn Kyrgyzstan into a parliamentary republic with limited presidential powers."

The former president's first extensive televised interview since he left office in November 2017 came three days after the publication of an interview in which Jeenbeekov accused him of trying to use others to pressure him and manipulate his decisions.

Limited to a single six-year term by the constitution, Atambaev tapped his prime minister Jeenbekov as his favored successor in the October 2017 presidential election.

Atambaev initially kept a low profile after leaving office. But following his election in March as head of the SDPK, he has publicly criticized Jeenbekov -- who is also a member -- on several occasions.

SDPK Deputy Chairwoman Irina Karamushkina, who is a member of parliament, told RFE/RL on November 20 that the party has been split by the tug-of-war between Atambaev and Jeenbekov.

In April, Jeenbekov fired several Atambaev allies including Prosecutor-General Indira Joldubaeva and former security chief Abdil Segizbaev, who had been criticized for a crackdown on opposition politicians and independent journalists.

Two Atambaev allies who also served as prime minister when he was president, Sapar Isakov and Jantoro Satybaldiev, were arrested in June on corruption charges.

In October, former Atambaev adviser Ikramjan Ilmiyanov was detained in Russia, brought to Kyrgyzstan, and arrested on corruption charges.

Some politicians and lawmakers have called in recent months for an investigation of some of Atambaev's decisions while in office.

In early October, the Supreme Court ruled that the immunity enjoyed by the country's former presidents is unconstitutional.