Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee refused earlier Friday to free three opposition activists in exchange for the arrest of Felix Kulov, leader of the radical opposition and a former prime minister.
Authorities sanctioned the arrest of three of Kulov's associates in the United Front movement for organizing riots in the capital, Bishkek, which were dispersed April 19. They faced up to eight years in prison if convicted.
Kulov offered to go to jail if his followers were freed.
"The only thing that [President Kurmanbek] Bakiyev wants is to isolate me. I propose that they arrest me and release everyone," said Kulov, who was himself questioned but not detained Saturday. "It is better to hold one innocent than many innocents."
The former presidential ally, who resigned amid a confrontation between the president and parliament in February, said he would turn himself in to the National Security Committee.
"Let them press all the charges they want against me - the court will acquit me all the same," he said, adding that he would not be convicted because that would make the president look bad amid ongoing mass protests.
Kulov warned that the arrest of his colleagues could have dangerous consequences.
A former political prisoner who came to power together with President Bakiyev on the back of violent mass protests in March 2005, Kulov said last week his main objective was to prevent a split between the country's prosperous north and the poorer south, where Bakiyev comes from.
"People say the Bakiyev regime has produced a North-South divide in the country, and I am trying to persuade people that this should not be allowed to happen," Kulov, himself a northerner, said.
The United Front accuses Bakiyev of failing to improve living standards, curb corruption and introduce democracy in the impoverished Central Asian republic. The mass protests organized by the opposition demanded the president's resignation and early elections.