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A Kyrgyzstan Crisis Is Hidden in the Baggage

Video foils an apparent bid to frame a leader of the opposition and puts president on defensive.

September 13, 2006|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The collapse of an apparent attempt to frame an opposition leader in Kyrgyzstan on heroin-smuggling charges threw the Central Asian state into political turmoil Tuesday.

Former parliament Speaker Omurbek Tekebayev was arrested at Warsaw's international airport last week after a wooden doll containing heroin was found in his luggage. But video from security cameras at Manas airport in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, indicated that security officials there may have tampered with his baggage, and a Polish court ordered Tekebayev's release after investigators determined that his fingerprints were not on the doll.

Supporters and critics of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev swiftly traded charges of who might be to blame for the incident.

The president's brother, Janybek Bakiyev, deputy chief of the National Security Service, was accused in parliament of having ordered the operation. He and his boss, national security chief Busurmankul Tabaldiyev, offered their resignations while declaring their innocence.

Parliament also debated but took no action on a resolution calling for the resignations of President Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov, who have worked as a team since coming to power last year in a largely nonviolent people's revolution driven by hopes for greater democracy and a crackdown on corruption.

The opposition For Reforms movement, headed by Tekebayev, said it would hold a rally Sunday demanding that the president step down.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday upon his return to Bishkek, Tekebayev, a former ally of the president, said it was clear that authorities bore responsibility for the apparent attempted frame-up. He discounted charges by some Bakiyev supporters that the incident was arranged by the opposition itself to damage the president and his family.

"Nobody can arrange such a provocation except the authorities," Tekebayev said, according to AKIpress, a Kyrgyz news agency.

The goal was to discredit the opposition in order to establish the "dictatorship of one group over the state and society," he said.

"The National Security Service has made a big mistake by not erasing the recording," he added, referring to the airport surveillance videotape that first provided evidence supporting his claim of innocence.

That videotape, viewed in parliament last week, showed Tekebayev's bag being separated from other luggage, taken away and returned after 14 minutes, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Parliament was presented Tuesday with a written statement, said to be from airport security chief Nadyr Mamyrov, charging that Janybek Bakiyev had ordered him to conduct a "special operation" involving the opposition politician's baggage.

In comments broadcast on Kyrgyz Television 1, Bakiyev said he had submitted his resignation in order to head off suspicions that he would try to influence the investigation into the case.

"I did not give any order to Nadyr Mamyrov to carry out a special operation," he said. "I believe that certain people simply have an interest in this.... I believe that neither my staff nor I personally have any involvement in this."

Presidential spokesman Dosaly Esenaliyev said in a telephone interview that "there is absolutely no chance that the president may even think of resignation."

Janybek Bakiyev, he added, would be suspended from his duties while a state commission investigated the case.

"The president met with a group of legislators today and during this meeting they demanded that his brother be sacked," the spokesman explained. "He promised to them that if the commission establishes that his brother is implicated in the incident with Tekebayev, he will then sack him."

Alexander Kim, editor in chief of the daily newspaper MSN, said in a telephone interview that Prime Minister Kulov now was likely to emerge as the country's most powerful leader.

Kim said he knew from sources that opposition leaders met with Kulov on Monday to urge him to resign, take over as head of the opposition and lead street protests to drive the president from power, but that the prime minister refused.

In Kyrgyzstan's system, Kim said, it is extremely difficult for parliament to impeach the president and remove him from office. Parliament can only recommend, but not require, dismissal of the prime minister.

If the airport security chief's charge against Janybek Bakiyev is true, "the only explanation is the president's brother and people close to him decided to politically remove from the scene the most likely [opposition] candidate for the 2010 presidential poll," Kim said. "And if the elections were held now, Tekebayev most certainly would have the best chances to win the presidency.

"Whatever they wanted to achieve by apparently planting drugs on Tekebayev," he added, "they spoiled things in a very bad way for the president."

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david.holley@latimes.com

Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.

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