Hundreds of people protested Sunday in Kyrgyzstan after authorities detained a prominent opposition leader on fraud and corruption charges that his supporters say are politically motivated.
Omurbek Tekebayev was arrested early Sunday morning after arriving at the Central Asian country’s main airport outside the capital Bishkek on a flight from Vienna.
About 300 people gathered in front of the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, in Bishkek, later in the day to call for Tekebayev’s release.
“The detention of the famous politician Tekebayev at night in the airport looks like the detention of a terrorist,” former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva told journalists.
The GKNB said the charges against Tekebayev are related to his time as deputy prime minister when he allegedly received a $1 million bribe from a Russian businessman.
Tekebayev, the leader of Kyrgyzstan’s Ata-Meken party, has vigorously denied the charges and returned from abroad despite knowing he could face detention. Members of Ata-Meken at the protest said his arrest was illegal due to procedural violations.
Kyrgyzstan has opened a string of criminal cases against opposition figures in recent months that critics allege are politically motivated.
The largely Muslim nation, a former Soviet republic, is set to hold presidential election elections in November. Incumbent President Almazbek Atambayev is barred from standing for another term but recent constitutional changes conferring greater powers on the prime minister have prompted speculation that he may seek to retain much of his power by switching to that post.