Kyrgyz leader missing as power vacuum persists
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The whereabouts of Kyrgyzstan's pro-Russia president were unknown Thursday as a power vacuum persisted after disputed parliamentary elections plunged the Central Asian country into a new bout of political chaos.
Sooronbay Jeenbekov has not been seen in public since unrest began over Sunday's vote which was won by his supporters but opponents as well as monitors said was marred by widespread vote-buying. Clashes have already left at least one dead and hundreds injured, with a decision to annul the results of the polls doing little to ease the tensions.
The crisis is the latest political turbulence to sweep through the volatile ex-Soviet state bordering China which has seen two revolutions and three of its presidents either jailed or sent into exile since independence.
Jeenbekov has called for a return to a rule of law, but several lawmakers in the parliament have said that there is no way to solve the growing impasse without his resignation or impeachment. As of Thursday, candidates from self-styled opposition parties claimed to control the state prosecutor's office, the national security committee and the interior ministry.
Kursan Asanov, who has positioned himself as acting interior minister, said that Jeenbekov's location was "unknown" but added that police were not searching for the head of state. The government-appointed interior minister Kashkar Junushaliyev, a rival of Asanov, had "fled like a coward" when the unrest began, Asanov claimed, without offering proof.
Asanov also pledged to ensure there would be no repeat of ethnic violence that left hundreds dead following an uprising in 2010. But there was no visible police presence outside key government buildings in the capital Bishkek on Thursday.
Jeenbekov's office insisted in a statement that the incumbent president was in Bishkek and "personally in talks with political forces". Yet Jeenbekov has made no public appearances since the unrest started.
Confusion over PM
Jeenbekov is believed to enjoy the support of key ally Russia, which has called for a return to stability in the republic and beefed up security at a military base it maintains not far from the capital. He has ruled Kyrgyzstan since 2017.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that Russia was "deeply concerned" about a "situation resembling a mess and chaos". But he said it was premature to discuss whether Jeenbekov should be offered refuge in Russia.
A meeting of Kyrgyz lawmakers on Wednesday night was seen failing to resolve the deadlock, with no majority for impeachment. Confrontations between groups of supporters in Bishkek have continued as rival groups contest the prime minister position.
Sadyr Japarov, a populist politician claimed the position on Tuesday following an extraordinary session of parliament, as hundreds of his supporters flooded into the capital. But at least two other groups -- one consisting of several losing parties -- have since put forward their own candidates for the post.
A parliamentary press spokesman told AFP that "around 70 lawmakers" -- a majority of the parliament, had voted for Japarov as prime minister. Many observers have cast doubt over the legitimacy of the vote, which took place in a three-star hotel.
Japarov, a headstrong nationalist known for his opposition to the company operating Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine, was freed from jail by protesters during a tumultuous night of unrest Monday that also saw former president Almazbek Atambayev released.
His supporters attempted to enter the building housing the prime minister's on office Wednesday night, but its doors were guarded by a 500-strong voluntary defence unit, who formed a human chain until the supporters dispersed, eyewitness told AFP.
Politically neutral voluntary defence units also control the building where Jeenbekov's administration and the parliament are housed, which was seized by protesters in the early hours of Tuesday. It was not clear whether Jeenbekov had signed off on the Tuesday resignation of outgoing prime minister Kubatbek Boronov or Japarov's candidacy.
Other ministers however appeared to remain in their position as they held an online meeting to discuss rising coronavirus cases amid other items of government.
Health Minister Sabyrzhan Abdykarimov warned at a press conference that the proliferation of rallies -- many involving citizens who arrived from the provinces -- could cause a spike in new cases and called on citizens to wear masks and observe distance.