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Kyrgyz opposition leader charged with murder

Kyrgyz opposition leader charged with murder

Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan charged a prominent opposition leader with murder Wednesday in a case that government critics say is politically motivated.
Alikbek Jekshenkulov was accused of involvement in the shooting of a Turkish citizen in late 2007 and illegal possession of a weapon, his lawyer Nina Zotova said.
Opposition politicians and activists in the impoverished Central Asian nation have been increasingly targeted by criminal investigations in recent months, ahead of a possible presidential election later this year.
Interior Ministry officials say forensic experts concluded that casings and a bullet found at the scene of the killing in the northern town of Talas were discharged from a handgun belonging to Jekshenkulov.
Jekshenkulov denied all charges leveled against him, Zotova said.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside a court building in the capital, Bishkek, where prosecutors are seeking approval for Jekshenkulov's indefinite detention.
Jekshenkulov was foreign minister until February 2007. He has since become a vocal critic of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's government and is a coordinator in the For Justice opposition movement.
Opposition Ata Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev described the case against Jekshenkulov as "political persecution."
Tekebayev also faced an illegal weapons charge earlier this year. The charge was later dropped.
Last month, Bakiyev announced the closure of a U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan shortly after Russia promised his country $2.1 billion in loans and aid.
Some analysts say the cash windfall will enable Bakiyev to boost public spending and secure enough political capital to win re-election.
Independent political analyst Nur Omarov said the arrest of a senior opposition figure suggests Bakiyev is attempting to throttle all dissent ahead of any potential polls.
"The presidential campaign has in effect begun with the arrest of Jekshenkulov," Omarov said.
Bakiyev was elected after the March 2005 ouster of longtime President Askar Akayev. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has been roiled by political instability, electricity shortages and deteriorating public security.