March 24, 2016 / 10:23 AM / 2 years ago

Kyrgyz leader accuses opponents of fomenting unrest

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s president, unsettled by an intelligence report of a coup plot, accused his political opponents on Thursday of trying to destabilize the country by escalating a border standoff with Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev waits for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Ala Archa compound in Bishkek, October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

Not clearly demarcated, the border zone is a source of bilateral tensions and Uzbekistan stationed two armored personnel carriers and about 40 soldiers there last week, prompting smaller Kyrgyzstan to reinforce deployments on its side.

Almazbek Atambayev described the situation there as “tense and unfriendly” and said some of his opponents had tried to foment violence.

“Those who say ‘Let us oust the Uzbek border guards by force’ are effectively calling for war,” he told reporters on the 11th anniversary of a revolt that ousted one of his predecessors.

“I think this has nothing to do with patriotism and is a betrayal of Kyrgyzstan’s national interests.”

On Tuesday Kyrgyzstan, Russia’s closest ally in the Central Asian region, called a meeting in Moscow of a Russia-led security bloc in response to the standoff.

Atambayev said he would cancel a planned visit to Uzbekistan in June, to attend a summit of another regional security body, unless the border standoff was resolved.

According to the Kyrgyz state news agency, Uzbekistan had since withdrawn the armored vehicles and both countries pulled back most of the soldiers, leaving only a few border guards.

Atambayev also referred to allegations made on Wednesday by the state security service that several politicians had been planning to oust him by staging riots across the former Soviet republic.

“(Those accused) must be judged according to the law,” he said.

Violent protests brought down two of the last four Kyrgyz presidents, Askar Akayev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.

The state security service has not charged anyone. But it questioned two opposition politicians, Bektur Asanov and Kubanychbek Kadyrov, according to Zamira Sydykova, the editor-in-chief of Respublika newspaper which is often critical of the government.

She told Reuters security service officers escorted both men out of her office.

In a statement identifying them only by their initials, the service said they were suspected of “planning actions aimed at destabilizing the social and political situation in the country which were to be followed by the implementation of a plot to violently seize power.”

Asanov is a former governor of the Jalalabad region, where the border standoff is taking place, and Kadyrov is a former deputy interior minister.

Attempts by Reuters to contact both men, who belong to the country’s National Opposition Movement, were unsuccessful.

Atambayev’s presidency ends at the end of next year and he cannot run for a second term.

Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim nation of 6 million, hosts a Russian military air base. Its economy has suffered from Russia’s recession and slowdowns in other neighboring countries including China.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet

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