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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Leader Charged in Bishkek

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan's security forces have opened criminal proceedings against opposition leader and former Prime Minister Felix Kulov, accusing him of seeking to stage mass disturbances during a protest in April.

The charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, were announced on Wednesday, Kulov told reporters Friday. He said the charges were an attempt to remove him from the volatile politics of the mountainous Central Asian state.

Five people were injured when a protest outside government headquarters in April turned violent, with some members of a crowd of about 1,500 throwing bottles at guards before being dispersed by riot police using tear gas.

Kulov served time in jail on what supporters said were politically motivated charges under former President Askar Akayev, but was freed from prison in March 2005 when Akayev fled the country during violent protests against his rule.

He subsequently served as prime minister under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, but joined the opposition this year after Bakiyev replaced him following parliamentary votes against the premier.

"I have been charged under paragraph 233 of the criminal code, that is the organization of mass disturbances," Kulov said. "This is being done on political orders."

In June, Kulov's party proposed a union between Kyrgyzstan and Russia in order to lift the country out of turmoil and poverty. Like the United States, Russia has a military air base in Kyrgyzstan. But the union proposal was seen as a political stunt.

Kulov said he believed Bakiyev would call an early parliamentary election in the fall.

"The aim is to divert the population's attention from the problems that our country faces," he said. "From the rise in prices, from creating a union with Russia and other CIS countries and from an early presidential election."