Protesters seized Kyrgyzstan’s seat of government and freed a jailed former president on Tuesday after demonstrations against an election marred by vote-buying accusations spiralled into violent clashes with police.
Opposition supporters hit the streets of the capital Bishkek the previous evening to demand the resignation of pro-Russian President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and a rerun of Sunday’s poll.
Police used water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to force their way through the gates of the building that houses the former Soviet republic’s parliament and presidential offices.
Photos published by Radio Free Europe later showed protesters strolling around the building unhindered.
A crowd of about 2,000 people then forced their way into the nearby National Security Committee building, where former President Almazbek Atambayev was jailed.
Adil Turdukuov, an activist and ally of Atambayev who witnessed the release said the ex-leader was freed “without force or use of any weapons” and that national security officials had not attempted to halt protesters.
“They surrendered,” he added.
Footage posted on social media showed Atambayev, 64, greeting supporters after he left jail, where he was serving an 11-year sentence for his role in the illegal release of a mob boss.
Atambayev was once close with his successor Jeenbekov, but the pair fell out shortly after the 61-year-old won the country’s last presidential election in 2017.
Both men are viewed as loyal allies of Russia, whose strategic position in the country is likely to remain unaffected despite the unrest.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin tried to broker a peace between the pair last year but could not prevent Atambayev’s arrest.