Kyrgyz president accepts new prime minister but delays resignation

People attend a rally to demand the resignation of Kyrgyzstan's President Sooronbai Jeenbekov in Biskek, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov accepted the appointment on Wednesday of a political opponent as prime minister, but immediately defied him by refusing to step down until a new election could be held following a popular uprising.

The central Asian nation, which borders China and is allied to Russia, has experienced turmoil since official results of an Oct. 4 parliamentary election reported a victory for parties supporting Jeenbekov, and were rejected by the opposition.

After opposition supporters seized government buildings and took to the streets, the authorities cancelled the election results. Jeenbekov said last week he would step down once “legitimate leaders of executive bodies are appointed and the country returns to the rule of law”.

On Wednesday, Jeenbekov accepted parliament’s choice of Sadyr Japarov, a nationalist whose supporters freed him from prison last week, to be prime minister.

Japarov said Jeenbekov must leave office within days to honour his pledge to step down.

“The president’s resignation is what people are demanding,” he told a briefing. “I will go to the president today and we will resolve this issue.”

But hours later, Jeenbekov’s spokeswoman said the president had told Japarov he would stay on until new parliamentary elections were held and a date for a new presidential vote announced.

“Sooronbai Jeenbekov once again stressed that he has no right to resign now as this would lead to unpredictable and harmful developments for the state,” she said.

The prime minister later told a crowd of his supporters in Bishkek he would continue to press for the president’s immediate resignation when talks resume on Thursday.

Japarov also reaffirmed a commitment to maintain a strategic partnership with Russia and said he had no plans to change the terms of Russia’s military presence.

Russia has expressed concerns that the former Soviet republic, home to a Russian military air base and a large Canadian-owned gold mining operation, could slide into chaos.

Kyrgystan has already seen two presidents toppled by popular uprisings since 2005, and frequent political unrest.

Before his supporters sprung him from jail, Japarov had been serving a lengthy sentence on charges of taking a senior public servant hostage during a protest in 2013. Last week a court reviewed his case and quashed the verdict.

Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek is under a state of emergency, but a few hundred Japarov supporters demonstrated in the centre of the city, defying a ban on rallies, to demand the president resign and parliament dissolve itself.

A few hundred Jeenbekov supporters held a counter-protest at a road leading to his residence on the outskirts of Bishkek, saying they wanted to make sure their opponents did not attempt to storm it.