Kyrgyz police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people demonstrating against the result of a parliamentary election, after some protesters tried to break into the government headquarters.
Gunshots and stun grenades could be heard on Monday as riot police with dogs, backed by several vehicles, moved into the central square in the capital Bishkek and the protesters retreated.
The health ministry said in a statement that 16 people were receiving treatment in Bishkek hospitals while Janar Akayev, an opposition leader, sustained an injury to his leg from a rubber bullet, his Ata-Meken party said.
According to preliminary data published by the Central Asian country’s election authority, the Birimdik (Unity) party of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s closest supporters led the count with 24.53 percent of the vote.
Just behind it with 22.2 percent was Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Motherland Kyrgyzstan), whose ticket includes former coalition members and ex-opposition MPs, and which has avoided positioning itself as either allied with or opposed to the president.
“It seems like utter chaos here in Bishkek,” said Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from the capital Bishkek. “We’ve seen protesters gathered there [outside parliament] throughout the day, estimates of numbers anywhere between five and ten thousand people crammed in the main square protesting over these elections results.
“When reports started coming through, there were live pictures being streamed on social media of men throwing stones and trying to climb the gates of the… parliament building and the presidency.”
“Earlier in the day, we’ve seen a buildup of security forces on the outskirts of the square and sure enough it seemed like only a matter of minutes before the police moved in, using tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs, to disperse the crowd.”
Just four out of the 16 parties contesting the elections appeared to have crossed the 7-percent barrier for election – the two others being Kyrgyzstan and Butun Kyrgyzstan.
The Central Election Commission said turnout was 55 percent.
“There are questions over whether rivalries in pro-government parties may start to appear, which may add a new dimension to these protests and potential greater political instability,” Stratford added.
While Birimdik’s ticket includes Jeenbekov’s brother Asylbek, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan has drawn attention by including on its list Iskender Matraimov, who, according to observers, represents another powerful local clan.
“The main conflict in this election is between the Jeenbekov and Matraimov clans, which is played out through the competition of the parties they are backing,” Central Asia-focused analyst Alexander Knyazev told AFP news agency.
While the clans have avoided public confrontation, there was a risk of greater tension if Mekenim Kyrgyzstan supporters viewed the election results as too skewed in favour of the president’s allies, he said.
The country of 6.5 million people has a history of political turmoil. In the past 15 years, two presidents have been toppled by revolts and a third is in prison after falling out with his successor.