RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev says he is prepared to take his allegations of slander against RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service to "international courts."
Speaking on March 24 in Bishkek, Atambaev also said he wants to complain about RFE/RL's Krygyz Service -- known locally as Azattyk, or Liberty -- to U.S. President Donald Trump during a visit to Washington he hopes to make in September.
Atambaev said he was slandered by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Kyrgyzstan's independent Zanoza.kg news website in their reports quoting Kyrgyzstan's opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party after the arrest of the party's leader, Omurbek Tekebaev.
Ata-Meken charged on March 1 that Tekebaev was targeted by Kyrgyz prosecutors in order to suppress evidence he had about a Turkish cargo plane that crashed outside Bishkek in January.
Ata-Meken attorney Taalaigul Toktakunova said on March 1 that Tekebaev had been carrying documents from Turkey's security service showing the MyCargo 747-400 plane was carrying cargo that belonged to Atambaev and his wife.
All four crew members and 35 people on the ground were killed when the cargo plane crashed on January 16.
Tekebaev, a major political opponent of Atambaev, has been named as Ata-Meken's candidate in Kyrgyzstan's November presidential election.
Tekebaev is an outspoken critic of constitutional amendments that were proposed and pushed through by Atambaev in 2016. Those amendments transfer presidential powers to the prime minister's office after Atambaev's term as president ends later in 2017.
Kyrgyzstan's constitution doesn't allow any person to be president longer than a single six-year term. Critics say Atambaev's amendments could allow him to continue ruling the country as prime minister.
A former parliament speaker, Tekebaev has been held at the State National Security Committee's detention center since late February on allegations of bribe taking and fraud.
His supporters say the criminal investigation against him is aimed at blocking him from running for president in November.
RFE/RL's report about Ata-Meken's allegations included a denial from Atambaev's spokesman, who called the opposition claim "a lie."
RFE/RL also reported the rejection of the opposition claim on March 1 by Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry, along with Bishkek's claim that the Turkish ambassador had called the purported evidence "fake."
Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL's vice president and editor in chief, responded on March 24 to Atambaev's remarks by saying: "RFE/RL stands by our reporting, which we consider balanced and professional. We are open to meeting with the president to discuss his concerns at any time."
In his comments on March 24 about RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the Zanoza.kg website, Atambaev said, "These are not journalists, these are slanderers."
"As for Radio Liberty, for example, I am ready to take them to international courts," the Kyrgyz president said. "That would be a good lesson for Radio Liberty. My health is mending, so God willing, this September, I will be able to go to America soon, and I'll be meeting Trump, because this has to be stopped."
The prosecutor's office in Bishkek in early March said lawsuits on behalf of Atambaev had been filed against RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Zanoza.kg.
The prosecutor said the lawsuits charge that the media outlets damaged "the president's honor, dignity, and business reputation."
The lawsuits seek damages of about $144,000 from RFE/RL's Krygyz Service and about $43,000 from the Zanoza.kg website.
Atambaev on March 24 said, "If you feel sorry for these two media outlets then know this: the budget of Radio Liberty is hundreds of millions of dollars."
In fact, the Kyrgyz Service is just one of RFE/RL's 26 language services, and the 2016 budget for all RFE/RL operations was $108.4 million.
"I'd rather be giving the money gained through these lawsuits to our journalists, or some children's cancer [charity]," Atambaev said.
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