BISHKEK -- Thousands have headed back onto the streets in Kyrgyzstan as rival opposition factions look to gain power after violent mass protests forced the annulment of weekend election results over alleged vote buying and prompted the prime minister and other senior officials to step down.
Demonstrators began their protest in front of the government building in the capital, Bishkek, on October 7, as well as at the central Ala-Too Square, demanding a "clean" generation of politicians to form the Central Asian nation's next government. Among their demands is that businessman Tilek Toktogaziev be named as the new prime minister, rejecting a move by parliament late on October 6 to nominate opposition politician Sadyr Japarov -- freed from prison by protesters just hours earlier -- as prime minister.
That decision spurred an angry mob to break into the hotel where the meeting had been convened, forcing Japarov to flee through a back door, according to Kyrgyz media.
The self-proclaimed People's Coordination Council, set up by several opposition parties, said on October 7 that it would not recognize Japarov's interim cabinet and was assuming all state powers itself and dissolving parliament.
Left isolated by the resignation of Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov's government late on October 6, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, in his second statement since the unrest erupted, called for all-party talks, reiterating his willingness to mediate.
While the speed of events has surprised many, Kyrgyzstan is no stranger to political turmoil.
Two presidents have been overthrown in the past 15 years, and longtime ally Russia expressed concern as protests spread across the country, which also borders China. The former Soviet republic hosts a Russian military air base.
The upheaval began soon after officials announced on October 4 results from parliamentary elections that handed victories to several pro-government parties.
Thousands streamed onto the streets of Bishkek and other towns and cities insisting that the results were rigged, with votes being bought -- which international observers also said they had concerns about -- and must be canceled.
A 19-year-old protester died during the clashes between police and protesters and many were injured during the demonstrations. The protesters on October 7 said they represent youth organizations and demanded that "old corrupt politicians" stay away from the government. "The old ones must go," they chanted as they tried to breach the government building. Tensions ratcheted up further as supporters of Japarov moved in front of the building to block the entrance in a standoff that RFE/RL correspondents described as intense.
Toktogaziev told RFE/RL at the site that he was "nominated by young members of several political parties to the post of leader of the interim government."
"Our main goal is to ensure that all politicians undergo lustration." he said, referring to a vetting process to ensure the removal of all elements of the previous regime. "The old authorities led by [President] Sooronbai Jeenbekov are fully responsible for this political and economic crisis we are facing now. We will establish a new government of young professionals. We will call on all the Kyrgyz youth residing abroad to return home.
"The main problem we are having is the situation in which revolutions in Kyrgyzstan are carried out by young people, who sacrifice their lives for change, while old corrupted politicians remain in power," Toktogaziev said.
The protesters then managed to force their way inside the building and Toktogaziev joined other politicians representing opposition parties to discuss the composition of the new government and possible new nominations for the post of prime minister. A leading member of the Reforma party, Klara Sooronkulova, proposed two other individuals as prime minister: Jumadyl Egemberdiev and Ali Toktakunov, an RFE/RL correspondent. After Sooronkulova's proposal was not supported by others, she left the gathering.
"The idea of nominating me for prime minister today was not discussed with me in advance," Toktakunov said. "I declined the offer. I'm not interested in any official post or career."
The group of some 20 lawmakers that put forward Japarov also proposed opposition Bir Bol (Stay United) party member Myktybek Abdyldaev to lead parliament.
A leader of the opposition Ata-Meken party, Janar Akaev, told RFE/RL on October 7 that lawmakers in the late-night session in the hotel were close to Jeenbekov, whose whereabouts are unknown, and that their real goal was to help keep the president in power.
The Coordination Council rejected the nominations of Abdyldaev and Japarov, who was serving a lengthy prison term on hostage-taking charges before being released during the turmoil. "We, the majority of lawmakers, are planning to propose other candidates [to the posts of the parliament speaker and prime minister.] We will propose the government consisting of young, honest men and women supported by the ordinary people," Akaev said. Across the country, the heads of departments are being removed by force or voluntary resignation, while the mayors of Bishkek and the second-largest city in the country's south, Osh, were also replaced. At the same time, opposition parties are struggling to agree who will govern at the national and local level. In many cases, it was unclear under what legal authority self-proclaimed mayors and government officials are taking power. Melis Myrzakmatov, the former mayor of Osh, returned to the city on October 7 and immediately addressed supporters, telling them Kyrgyzstan is “in a very dangerous situation” and that "thieves and crooks” are preparing to sow confusion, “but we will not allow this and will fight for the country's integrity and its development."
Myrzakmatov urged them "to preserve national unity and resist forces interested in organizing a civil war and dividing the country."
He also said that the parliamentary elections were "very dirty" and that only worthy people should be elected to the Kyrgyz assembly.
However, Osh Mayor Taalaibek Sarybashov said on October 7 that he will continue to carry out his duties despite the ongoing rallies by both his supporters and opponents in the city.
On the same day, Jeenbekov called on all politicians to have their supporters stop the rallies across the country as officials look for a way forward.
"Dear compatriots, those who wanted to get posts, got them. Now I again call all political leaders, who are organizing rallies of their supporters in the streets, to return to legal boundaries," Jeenbekov said in a statement, adding that he believed "we will find a solution to this crisis together."
On October 7, the deputy secretary of the Security Council, Omurbek Suvanaliev, confirmed to RFE/RL that a brother of wealthy and influential tycoon and former top customs official Raiymbek Matraimov, whom protesters accused of buying votes for the pro-government Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party, had been arrested recently by Uzbek border guards.
Suvanaliev said Tilek Matraimov, his son, nephews, and a bodyguard had been apprehended while trying to illegally cross the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border at the start of the protest rallies. He did not specify the exact date of the detainments, adding that the detained Kyrgyz nationals' extradition to Kyrgyzstan is under discussion with the Uzbek side.
Raiymbek Matraimov along with his powerful clan was the target of large protests in November and December 2019, with demonstrators demanding a probe into allegations of corruption and massive outflows of cash from the country.
The powerful tycoon, whom many in Kyrgyzstan consider as Jeenbekov’s associate, has been at the center of a high-profile corruption scandal exposed by a joint investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP,) and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop.
Deputy Interior Minister Almaz Orozaliev said on October 7 that Bishkek police were in control of the situation in the city and acting Interior Minister Kursan Asanov is also serving as the city's commandant responsible for preserving law and order in the capital. Meanwhile, media reports say that dozens of unidentified people tried to break into the office of the Canadian-owned Kumtor Gold Company in Bishkek on October 7. A day earlier, several miners reported attacks on their offices and facilities amid the rallies and unrest. Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan’s major gold-producing entity, is owned by the Canadian firm Centerra Gold.