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‘I am not holding on to power’ Kyrgyzstan’s president resigns amid ongoing opposition protests

Source: Meduza
Vyacheslav Oseledko / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov has announced his resignation. In a statement issued on the afternoon of Thursday, October 15, he said the main reason for his resignation was fear that the confrontation between protesters and law enforcement agencies could escalate to the point that the latter would use weapons. “I am not holding on to power. I don’t want to remain in the history of Kyrgyzstan as a president who shed blood and shot at his own citizens,” Jeenbekov said. In light of Jeenbekov stepping down, the parliament’s speaker Kanabet Isayev — who was elected to this role just two days ago — has become acting president.

Update: Later in the day on October 15, Kanabet Isayev announced that he was resigning as acting president just a day and a half after he stepped into the role automatically. Now, the duties of head of state will pass to Kyrgyzstan’s newly appointed Prime Minister Sadyr Zhaparov.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Sadyr Zhaparov demanded Jeenbekov’s resignation. Yesterday, his supporters held a protest outside of the president’s residence. After the mass demonstrations and riots that took place from October 5–10, a new government was formed in Kyrgyzstan and the country opted to hold new parliamentary elections — this led to a relative stabilization of the situation in the country, and there were no protests in the days that followed. On October 14, Jeenbekov met with Zhaparov for the first time, and the new prime minister demanded the president’s immediate resignation. In the evening, Zhaparov’s supporters gathered on the square outside of the presidential palace — despite the fact that Bishkek is under a state of emergency. There were no law enforcement officers present at the rally, but on the morning of October 15 military and special forces were transferred to the square.

Jeenbekov has played a key role in stabilizing the situation in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Kremlin’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Dmitry Kozak — the most senior Russian official to arrive in Kyrgyzstan after the protests broke out. The United States and the European Union have also expressed support officially for Jeenbekov’s actions. At the start of the unrest, Jeenbekov stated that he was willing to step down, but only after the situation returned to the legal fold. After meeting with Zhaparov on October 14, his spokespeople announced that he was prepared to leave immediately after new parliamentary elections took place and the announcement of a date for new presidential elections. 

Moscow has expressed concern over recent events in Kyrgyzstan — after Jeenbekov’s resignation, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced a telephone conversation between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the new head of Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry, Ruslan Kazakbayev. Moscow has also suspended financial assistance for the country until the situation stabilizes. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that Moscow “is monitoring the situation closely” and is staying in contact with the new authorities. Earlier, Sadyr Zhaparov and Ruslan Kazakbayev emphasized that Russia will remain a strategic partner for Kyrgyzstan and that the new authorities aren’t planning to revise the conditions for stationing a Russian airbase in the country.

Jeenbekov is the third of Kyrgyzstan’s five presidents whose term has ended ahead of schedule due to protests. The first president, Askar Akayev, who had ruled the country since independence, was overthrown during the so-called Tulip Revolution (also known as the First Kyrgyz Revolution) in 2005. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power after that, was ousted amid the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010. The only Kyrgyz head of state to remain in power for a complete term is Almazbek Atambayev, who was president from 2011 until 2017. In the summer of 2020, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for corruption. He was freed from a pretrial detention center after the mass protests began on October 6, but was arrested once again on October 10, on charges of organizing riots.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Text by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Eilish Hart