Thousands of protesters rallied in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan on December 2 to call for the release of opposition politician Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who was arrested on corruption charges on November 20.
They gave the authorities three days to free Keldibekov, a parliamentarian for the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, whose leader Kamchybek Tashiyev was recently convicted on charges of seeking to overthrow the government.
The Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper quoted police as saying that around 3,000 protesters turned out in Osh, but by evening police said most had dispersed, leaving around 100 people on Osh’s main square.
The demonstrators were mostly peaceful but some tried unsuccessfully to storm the regional administration building, Kloop reported. They also threatened to take the government’s representative in the region, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, hostage (he was whisked away by police). Sporadically over the past 10 days, Keldibekov’s supporters have blocked the highway from Osh to the Chinese border at Irkeshtam, an important trade crossing.
Keldibekov has a powerful backer in the form of Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who turned out to address the protest rally and described the corruption charges against his political ally as “nonsense” and a “political order,” Vecherniy Bishkek reported.
Keldibekov, a former head of the State Tax Committee, faces 10 years in jail on charges of corruption and abuse of office that he denies, describing his arrest as political. The politician – whose legal challenge to be released from detention under house arrest was rejected by a Bishkek court on December 2 – has long been surrounded by corruption allegations: He was forced to resign as parliament speaker in 2011 amid scrutiny of his links to alleged mafia kingpin Kamchibek Kolbayev.
Kolbayev is currently appealing a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down in October on extortion charges. He was acquitted on other charges including involvement in organized crime, abduction, and possession of narcotics and weapons.