MOSCOW – The embattled president of Kyrgyzstan ordered a nearly two-week state of emergency Friday in the capital in a bid to end turmoil sparked by a disputed parliamentary election as clashes between rival factions escalated and gunshots were fired at several political leaders.
President Sooronbai Jeenbekov decreed that the state of emergency, from 8 p.m. Friday through 8 a.m. on Oct. 21, could include a curfew and travel restrictions. He also ordered the military to deploy troops to Bishkek, the capital, to enforce the measure.
“We are witnessing a real threat to the existence of our state,” Jeenbekov said in a statement. "The peaceful life of our citizens mustn't be sacrificed to political passions.”
But just hours after the presidential decree, the Interior Ministry said the state of emergency in the capital would only be introduced on Saturday — the confusion reflecting the chaos that has engulfed the country.
Convoys of military trucks were seen driving into the city, but it wasn't immediately clear whether police and the military would comply with the presidential order.
Jeenbekov has faced calls to step down from hundreds of protesters who stormed government buildings the night after Sunday's parliamentary vote was reportedly swept by pro-government parties. The demonstrators also freed former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in June on charges of corruption and abuse of office that he and his supporters described as a political vendetta by Jeenbekov.
The turmoil marks a third time in 15 years that protesters have moved to topple a government in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation of 6.5 million that is one of the poorest to emerge from the former Soviet Union.
Like in the uprisings that ousted Kyrgyz presidents in 2005 and 2010, the current protests have been driven by clan rivalries that play a key role in the country's politics.
After an initial attempt to break up protesters immediately after the vote, police have pulled back and refrained from intervening with the demonstrations. Residents of the capital began forming vigilante groups to prevent looting that marked previous uprisings in the country.
Under pressure from protesters, the Central Election Commission has overturned the parliamentary vote results and protest leaders have moved quickly to form a new government. An emergency parliament session on Tuesday named lawmaker Sadyr Zhaparov as a new prime minister, but the move was immediately contested by other protest groups, plunging the country into chaos.
Atambayev spoke to demonstrators who flooded central Bishkek on Friday, urging them to refrain from violence.
“I'm against using force, everything should be done by peaceful means,” he said.
Shortly after he spoke, supporters of Zhaparov assailed pro-Atambayev demonstrators on Bishkek's central square, hurling stones and bottles.
A man with a pistol fired several shots at Atambayev's car as it sped away, but the former president was unhurt. Two other politicians affiliated with Atambayev also had their cars shot at as they left the square, their party said. They weren't injured.
Another politician was badly injured amid the clashes on the square, but the circumstances of the incident weren't immediately clear.
Jeenbekov, who hunkered down for days after the vote, used the infighting between his foes to dig in. He said Thursday he may consider stepping down, but only after the political situation stabilizes.
The president met with the new chief of the military General Staff Friday, saying that he relies on the armed forces to help restore order.
“We must quickly take the situation under control,” Jeenbekov said.
Kyrgyzstan is strategically located on the border with China and once was home to a U.S. air base used for refueling and logistics for the war in Afghanistan. The country is a member of Russia-dominated economic and security alliances, hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow's economic support.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired Friday's session of his Security Council to discuss the situation in Kyrgyzstan, among other issues.
“It was noted that it's necessary to quickly stabilize the situation to prevent it from sliding into chaos,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the meeting.