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Atambaev's Trial Starts Without Him After He Formally Refuses To Attend

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev's trial started on October 15 after he twice refused to attend the hearing over whether he broke the law by authorizing the release of an imprisoned crime boss.

After an official written statement from the former leader was presented to the Birinchi Mai District Court in Bishkek on October 15, the trial started without his presence.

The court in August said the charge against the 63-year-old Atambaev is linked to the 2013 illegal release of notorious crime boss Aziz Batukaev, who was convicted for several high-profile crimes -- including the murders of a Kyrgyz lawmaker and an Interior Ministry official.

More than 15 former officials and medical personnel are co-defendants in the case.

Atambaev, who has denied any wrongdoing, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The former leader was arrested on August 8 after he surrendered to police following a deadly two-day standoff between security forces and his supporters.

The move to detain Atambaev was sparked by his refusal to obey three subpoenas calling him to the Interior Ministry for questioning in an unspecified investigation.

The standoff between security forces and his supporters resulted in the death of a top security officer and more than 170 injuries -- 79 of them sustained by law enforcement officers.

Power Struggle

The violence underscored a power struggle between Atambaev and his handpicked successor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, that has raised fears of instability in the Central Asian nation.

The former president is also suspected of committing 13 other crimes, including organizing murder, organizing mass disturbances, and taking servicemen hostage during the clashes at his residence this summer, his lawyer said.

Kyrgyzstan saw a smooth and peaceful transfer of power from Atambaev, a northerner, to southerner Jeenbekov, which was welcomed by the international community after presidential changes -- in 2005 and 2010 -- came after violent rioting.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (left) at his inauguration with Atambaev in 2017.
Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (left) at his inauguration with Atambaev in 2017.

Once close allies, relations between the two soured after the state prosecutor charged Atambaev on the basis of accusations leveled against him by a legislature loyal to Jeenbekov.

Several of Atambaev's close allies had already been arrested on corruption charges and the two former friends began trading accusations of incompetence and a lack of professionalism.

After parliament on June 27 voted to strip immunity from prosecution for former presidents, the embattled Atambaev retreated to spend most of his time at his residential compound.

His lawyer called the immunity vote unconstitutional, and Atambaev warned that he had weapons at the compound.

Russia has a military base in Kyrgyzstan, and President Vladimir Putin has met separately with both Atambaev and Jeenbekov since their fallout.