September 20, 2017 / 8:50 AM / a year ago

Kyrgyzstan protests over Kazakh "support" for opposition candidate

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s government officially protested on Wednesday after Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with Kyrgyz opposition presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov, saying its neighbour was interfering in its Oct. 15 election.

Nazarbayev’s office said on Tuesday he had met Babanov, a leader of the Kyrgyz opposition Respublika-Ata Zhurt party, in Kazakhstan, and expressed readiness to work “with a new president in whom the Kyrgyz people will put their trust”.

The Kyrgyz foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday it viewed the meeting and comments from Nazarbayev as an expression of support for Babanov, 47, one of the main challengers to the ruling party’s candidate.

“The Kyrgyz side regards those comments and the wide coverage of this meeting by the Kazakh side as an attempt to influence the choice of the people of Kyrgyzstan and interfere in the domestic affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic,” it said in a note handed to the Kazakh ambassador.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev is barred by the constitution from running for a second term. His Social Democratic party, which leads a majority coalition in parliament, is backing Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who stepped down as prime minister last month in order to run for the presidency.

The mostly Muslim ex-Soviet nation is a parliamentary republic where two previous presidents have been toppled by protests.

Kyrgyzstan hosts a Russian military air base and its economy relies heavily on remittances from migrant labourers working in Russia, as well as on gold mining.

Although Kazakhstan, a bigger and wealthier Central Asian nation, is also a Russian ally, relations between Bishkek and Astana have been rocky, with tensions over cross-border trade and sharing of water resources.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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