BISHKEK -- A court in Kyrgyzstan has ordered opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party leader Omurbek Tekebaev to be kept in custody for two months while a fraud and corruption investigation continues against him.
Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (UKMK) announced the February 27 court ruling in a statement that followed a hearing at the Bishkek court on whether Tekebaev, a member of parliament, should be held in pretrial detention.
It said Tekebaev would be "held until April 25" at a UKMK penitentiary facility.
Tekebaev, a former ally turned critic of President Almazbek Atambaev, was detained at the Bishkek International Airport early on February 26 as he was returning to Kyrgyzstan from Vienna via Turkey.
Under Kyrgyz law, he would have to have been released within 48 hours of his initial detention -- before 3.a.m. Bishkek time on February 28 -- if the court had not ordered his continued detention.
The UKMK says the corruption case against Tekebaev is related to a $1 million bribe he allegedly received from a Russian businessman while serving as deputy prime minister.
Hundreds of Tekebaev supporters rallied outside the court building during his hearing to demand his release.
They say his arrest is part of an effort to control dissent ahead of November's presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan and to prevent Tekebaev from running for president.
The demonstrators gathered on Ala-Too Square in Bishkek on February 27, holding placards calling Tekebaev's detainment a "provocation."
They chanted "Freedom for Tekebaev!" and urged President Atambaev to come out and explain the situation.
More than 1,000 supporters protested outside UKMK headquarters on February 26, demanding Tekebaev's release.
His detention months before a November presidential election has raised the prospect of fresh political turmoil in the Central Asian country, where protesters drove presidents from power in 2005 and 2010.
Former deputy parliament speaker Asia Sasykbaeva told journalists that the protests will continue until Tekebaev's release.
Former President Roza Otunbaeva, who was among the protesters on February 27, said that Tekebaev's detainment was politically motivated.
"We have seen all this before," said Otunbaeva, who was swept to power in the protests that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiev in 2010 and served as president from April 2010 until December 2011.
"I was confident that current authorities will not repeat the mistakes of the previous authorities," she said. "Now, a political standoff is under way. Tekebaev's detainment is unjust and unacceptable in the independent Kyrgyzstan."
Many protesters said that Atambaev and members of the government and parliament "have quickly forgotten" that they came to power thanks to dozens of people killed in a crackdown on the protests against Bakiev in 2010.
Tekebaev's wife, Aigul Tekebaeva, told RFE/RL on Ala-Too Square that the UKMK would be responsible if something happened to her husband while in custody.
Once an ally of Atambaev, Tekebaev became a leading critic last summer after the president proposed constitutional amendments -- approved in a December referendum -- that opponents fear are designed to keep him and his allies in power indefinitely.
The amendments boosted the powers of the prime minister, prompting speculation that Atambaev -- who is barred from seeking a second term in the November 19 election -- could position himself to become the next prime minister or install an ally in the role.
Tekebaev, 58, is the third member of Ata-Meken to be detained by the authorities for questioning in recent weeks as part of the alleged corruption probe.
Earlier in February, authorities also detained parliamentary deputies Almabet Shykmamatov and Aida Salyanova for questioning.
The detentions come despite the fact that Tekebaev, Shykmamatov, and Salyanova all have parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
With reporting by AP and AFP