Fugitive former presidential candidate cancels return to Kyrgyzstan


BISHKEK (TCA) — Omurbek Babanov, Kyrgyzstan’s former presidential candidate who fled the country amid a criminal probe, has canceled plans to return to his home country, RFE/RL reported.

Babanov said he had nixed the trip amid concerns that “third forces” could exploit his return to Bishkek to stir up unrest, AKIpress reported on April 13.

He also called on supporters to cancel rallies backing him.

Earlier, Babanov had posted on Facebook that he had a plane ticket from Moscow to Bishkek and planned to arrive in the Kyrgyz capital on April 13.

A businessman who finished second in the October 2017 presidential election, Babanov left the country after authorities launched an investigation into charges that he incited ethnic hatred during the campaign.

Officials said Babanov was suspected of plotting riots and the seizure of power in the Central Asian country.

In his statement on Facebook, and a TV interview broadcast on April 10, Babanov said he was returning to the country voluntarily.

“I am returning on my own free will. Why would they arrest me?” he told the TV station NTS. “I’m not running away from anything. I have nothing to hide.”

In the 2017 vote, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the ruling party candidate, won the election with backing from outgoing leader Almazbek Atambayev and took office in November.

Babanov had alleged that the vote was marred by violations.

International observers praised the vote as competitive and transparent, but said that “numerous and significant problems were noted” during the count and that the “misuse of public resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remain a concern.”

Sergey Kwan