Vladimir Voronin / AP
The president of the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan resigned on Thursday after 10 days of unrest caused by disputed parliamentary elections.
When protesters locked themselves in his residence, Sooronbay Jeenbekov withdrew abruptly, saying nothing was more precious to him than the lives of each of his compatriots.
“I do not stick to power. I do not want to go down in the history of Kyrgyzstan as a president who shed blood and shot at his own citizens,” Jeenbekov said in a statement posted on the president’s website.
Vyacheslav Oseledko / AFP via Getty Images
Jeenbekov is the third president to be overthrown in a popular uprising since Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991. Unlike the other four Central Asian states emerged from the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan, with a population of 6.5 million, has a pluralistic, albeit chaotic, political life associated with their strong clan traditions.
The landlocked mountainous country, which borders China, hosts a Russian air base and receives millions in financial aid from the Kremlin. For more than a decade, the United States also operated an air base in Kyrgyzstan to support operations in Afghanistan, until in 2014 it was forced to close under pressure from Russia.
The current turmoil in Kyrgyzstan is focusing on internal rivalry.
The chaos began with protests against vote buying in the October 4th parliamentary elections. Even after the authorities canceled the vote, unrest continued, with clashes in the capital, Bishkek, killing one person and injuring hundreds.
Supporters of imprisoned former MP Sadir Japarov took him out of prison, where he was serving a sentence for kidnapping a local governor.
When Prime Minister Kuratbek Boronov resigned last week, it created a political vacuum – and an opening for Japarov.
Jeenbekov accepted Japarov as new prime minister earlier this week. But Japarov insisted the president step down immediately – not, as Jeenbekov suggested, once the situation stabilized.
After Jeenbekov resigned, the speaker of parliament, following in line for the presidency, refused to take office. Japarov told his supporters in Bishkek that he was taking over the presidency according to the order of succession.
The Kremlin is watching this development with concern. Russian President Vladimir Putin meets frequently with Jeenbekov, a veteran politician who last visited Moscow in late September.
Russia hosts hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant workers, and Bishkek is linked to Moscow through economic and defense pacts.
Earlier this week, Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of Putin’s administration, met with Jeenbekov and said he played a “key role” in the country’s stable development.
Following Jeenbekov’s resignation, Putin’s spokesman said Russia would freeze financial aid to Kyrgyzstan until the situation calmed down and the new government began working.