Lawmakers challenge new Kyrgyz PM as embattled president told to stay

Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) (AFP) –

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The acting premier of crisis-stricken Kyrgyzstan picked a new police chief on Sunday, ignoring lawmakers contesting his legitimacy as the Central Asian country's embattled president weighs resignation.

Sadyr Japarov signed an order on Sunday appointing a new interior minister, Ulan Niyazbekov, after the previous police chief resigned in the wake of unrest over last week's contested election.

Elected in an extraordinary session of parliament on Saturday, Sadyr Japarov had been serving a jail term for hostage-taking until early Tuesday.

Supporters freed the nationalist politician from prison after demonstrations over disputed October 4 parliamentary elections in the crisis-prone ex-Soviet country descended into violence.

The polls saw parties close to President Sooronbay Jeenbekov claim the most seats after reports of mass vote-buying, and electoral authorities annulled the vote on Tuesday.

One person was killed and more than 1,000 were injured in clashes with police and between rival factions as central government all but lost control.

Residents were trickling back into cafes and strolling down a leafy central thoroughfare in the capital Bishkek by Sunday, an AFP correspondent saw.

No notice has appeared to confirm Japarov's appointment on the official website of Jeenbekov -- who is himself embroiled in a protracted power struggle.

Immediately after his election as acting PM, Japarov said he expected the embattled president to resign "in two to three days".

If he does, Japarov would become acting president, as parliament currently has no speaker who would usually step in.

- 'Not afraid' -

Several lawmakers opposed Japarov's election on Saturday, saying it was invalid because parliament did not have the numbers for a quorum at the time of the vote.

"None of the decisions made by (Japarov) as the prime minister of the Kyrgyz Republic have legal force," parliament's deputy speaker Aida Kasymaliyeva wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

She added that she had received threats from a lawmaker loyal to Japarov, Urmat Samayev.

Addressing Samayev, nicknamed "Champion", Kasymaliyeva said: "I'm not afraid of you. I still use public transport and walk alone. If something happens to my daughter, family, then everything is written here."

Kasymaliyeva, who is loyal to Jeenbekov, also criticised the lawmakers present at the Saturday session for their endorsement of Japarov.

"How disgusting it was to look at those men kissing up. Vile sycophants on bended knee. The whole country saw what you were doing at the session, when we are losing our statehood."

Kasymaliyeva is one of a number of high-ranking politicians believed to have asked Jeenbekov to stay in office.

The president has not commented on Japarov's election but said Friday that he could resign once order is restored and a new government is formed.

A state official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that the country's third president, Roza Otunbayeva, had held talks with Jeenbekov Sunday, in a bid to prevent him resigning.

"She urged him to stay put," the official said.

Kyrgyzstan has had two presidents overthrown by street protests since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Otunbayeva, a career diplomat, took charge of the country on an interim basis in 2010, after the second of these uprisings, and has made few forays into politics since her retirement.

- Organised crime -

Japarov's conviction was squashed by a court after his release.

But his emergence as prominent player in the post-vote chaos was seen as a driving factor behind a hundreds-strong rally against organised crime on Friday.

Japarov has said that media reports linking him to organised crime are part of a campaign to "blacken my name".

When asked at his confirmation Saturday about threats made by his supporters to media that had covered the alleged links, Japarov was unapologetic.

"I myself read such news, you distorted some information. Maybe that's why there were threats," he told the journalists.

Unrest in Kyrgyzstan has added to the concerns of ally Russia, as Belarus is rocked by post-election protests and clashes have broken out over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.