164 killed and almost 6,000 detained in Kazakhstan's turmoil


A relative calm appeared to have returned to the economic hub Almaty. (Photo: AFP Alexander Bogdanov)

Over 150 people have been killed and almost 6,000 jailed in Kazakhstan this week due to violent rioting, media outlets reported Sunday, citing the health ministry.

A week of unrest has rocked the energy-rich nation of 19 million people, with several foreigners imprisoned in connection with the unrest.

At least 164 people were murdered in the riots, including 103 in Almaty, the country's largest city, which witnessed some of the most ferocious battles between demonstrators and police forces.

The revised estimates — which have not been independently verified — represent a significant increase in the death toll.

Officials initially stated that 26 "armed criminals" and 16 security policemen had been murdered.

On Sunday, the president claimed that 5,800 persons had been held for questioning.

It stated without specifying that the figures included "a sizable number of foreign nationals."

"The situation has stabilized in all regions of the country," the statement added, even as security forces continued "clean-up" operations following a crisis conference convened by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Fuel price increases caused unrest that began a week ago in the country's west but swiftly expanded to significant towns, including Almaty, where riots erupted, and police fired live bullets.

According to local media reports Sunday, the interior ministry estimated property damage at roughly 175 million euros ($199 million).

According to the government, over 100 businesses and banks were attacked and plundered, and over 400 automobiles were wrecked.

Almaty appeared to have returned to relative peace, with police occasionally firing into the air to deter people from reaching the city's central square, an AFP correspondent reported.

The media reported Sunday that supermarkets were reopening amid fears of food shortages.

Treason of the highest order

Kazakhstan announced Saturday the arrest of its former security chief on suspicion of treason.

Karim Masimov's arrest, a former prime minister and longstanding supporter of Kazakhstan's former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, came amid rumors of a power struggle in the ex-Soviet nation.

Masimov was arrested on Thursday on accusations of high treason, according to the domestic intelligence agency, the National Security Committee (KNB).

The arrest happened after extensive violence erupted during rallies, with government facilities in Almaty attacked and burned on the fire.

Masimov, 56, was fired when Tokayev took over as president of the powerful security council from Nazarbayev.

Aidos Ukibay, Nazarbayev's spokesperson, denied again on Sunday that the ex-president had fled the country and expressed his support for the president.

Ukibay noted that Nazarbayev gave up the authority of the security council freely.

On Friday, Tokayev delivered a stern address to the country, claiming that 20,000 "armed bandits" invaded Almaty and authorizing his men to shoot to kill without warning.

Much of the widespread outrage seems to be directed at Nazarbayev, 81, who ruled Kazakhstan from 1989 until he abdicated.

Numerous demonstrators chanted "old man out!" about Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was demolished in Taldykorgan, the southern city.

Critics accuse him and his family of wielding undue influence and amassing massive wealth at the expense of ordinary residents.

Intervention by a foreign power

The entire scope of the mayhem has frequently been obscured, with extensive communications interruptions, including days-long internet outages.

Flights into the country have been frequently canceled, and authorities announced Sunday that Almaty's airport will remain closed "until the situation is stabilized."

In his Angelus prayer on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed his "sorrow" and urged dialogue to establish peace.

Tokayev expressed gratitude to Russia's-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for sending soldiers to assist in quelling the uprising.

The CSTO has sent several thousand troops to Kazakhstan, including Russian paratroopers, to safeguard vital locations.

Tokayev has stated that the deployment will be temporary, but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Kazakhstan on Friday that they may have difficulty removing them.

"I believe one lesson from recent history is that once Russians have taken up residence in your home, it can be extremely difficult to evict them," Blinken told reporters.

Tensions between Moscow and the West are at a post-Cold War high due to worries of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Russia and the US scheduled to meet in Geneva on Monday following a working dinner on Sunday.

Russia has ruled out making any compromises during the negotiations.

"We will make no concessions. That is entirely out of the question," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated Sunday.

Publish : 2022-01-09 19:47:00

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