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Kyrgyzstan protesters storm parliament, free former president

BISHKEK: Protesters seized Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on Tuesday and freed a jailed former president after demonstrations against an election marred by rigging spiralled into violent clashes.

Opposition supporters hit the streets of the capital Bishkek the previous evening to demand the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Police used water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to force their way through the gates of the building that houses the parliament and presidential offices.

Protesters strolling around the building unhindered. A crowd of around 2,000 people then forced their way into the nearby National Security Committee building where former president Almazbek Atambayev was jailed.

Footage posted on social media showed Atambayev greeting supporters after he left jail where he was serving an 11-year-sentence for his role in the illegal release of a mob boss.

Atambayev was once close with his successor Jeenbekov, but the pair fell out shortly after he won the country’s last presidential election in 2017. Both men are viewed as loyal allies of Russia, whose strategic position in the country is likely to remain unaffected despite the unrest.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin tried to broker a peace between the pair last year but could not prevent Atambayev’s arrest. The two parties that swept Sunday’s poll are supportive of the current president and hostile towards his predecessor.

Both were viewed by rival parties of coordinating a massive vote-buying campaign. The clashes began after an initially peaceful rally held by losing parties spun out of control.

Police attempted to disperse protesters when they first attempted to force their way to the main government building known as the White House on Monday evening. Health authorities said at least 120 people were being treated for injuries but there were no reports of deaths.

Opposition supporters had called for a re-run of Sunday’s election after an international monitoring mission organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe called “credible allegations” of vote-buying.

The preliminary count showed two pro-presidency parties, Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, who both favour deeper integration with Moscow, together taking around half of the vote.

Birimdik, which includes the president’s younger brother Asylbek Jeenbekov, said it was open to a re-run of the vote but by that time police were already struggling to bring protesters under control.

Opposition parties earlier distanced themselves from the first attempt to storm the government complex. Thousands had gathered in central Bishkek for Monday’s protest to denounce the results of the latest vote.

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