Former Kyrgyz President In Lawmakers' Focus Over January Power-Plant Accident

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz lawmakers have placed former President Almazbek Atambaev on a list of officials who may be responsible for what authorities say was a power-plant accident last winter.

The unspecified accident that left many residents of the capital without heating for days occurred on January 26, when the temperature in Bishkek fell to nearly -30 Celsius.

Lawmakers made the decision on May 17 after three days of heated debates. It recommends stripping Atambaev of immunity to allow authorities to investigate his role in the accident.

Authorities launched an investigation into the accident, which took place just months after the completion of three-year-long modernization works at the Bishkek power plant.

The modernization work was performed by Chinese company TBEA and was financed by a $386 million credit from China's Export-Import Bank.

Lawmakers also recommended the investigation of dozens of top officials who approved the Chinese loan.

In the last four weeks, investigators interviewed former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov twice in connection with the accident.

The pressure put by authorities on Isakov is seen as additional evidence of a rift between President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and his predecessor Atambaev, who backed Jeenbekov in the October presidential election but has criticized him in recent weeks.

Lawmakers dismissed Isakov and his government in April, while Jeenbekov fired several of Atambaev allies the same month, including Prosecutor-General Indira Joldubaeva and intelligence service head Abdil Segizbaev, who had been criticized for a crackdown on opposition politicians and independent journalists.

Atambaev, who was limited to a single six-year presidential term by the Central Asian country's constitution, initially kept a low profile after leaving office in November.

But following his election as head of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) on March 31, he has publicly criticized Jeenbekov on several occasions.