Kazakhstan says 164 killed in week of protests

MOSCOW – Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Health said Sunday that 164 people were killed in protests that rocked the country last week.

The numbers from the state news broadcaster Khabar-24 are a significant increase over previous numbers. It is not clear whether the report only related to civilians or whether it includes law enforcement deaths. The Kazakh authorities announced on Sunday that 16 members of the police or the national guard had been killed. The authorities previously put the number of civilian fatalities at 26.

Most of the dead – 103 – occurred in Almaty, the country’s largest city, where protesters confiscated government buildings and set some on fire, according to the ministry. The ombudsman for children’s rights in Kazakhstan said three of those killed were minors, including a four-year-old girl.

The ministry previously reported that more than 2,200 people were treated for the protests, and the Home Office said about 1,300 security officers were injured.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said about 5,800 people were arrested by police during protests that sparked violence last week and prompted a Russia-led military alliance to send troops into the country.

His office said order in the country has stabilized and authorities have regained control of administrative buildings occupied by protesters. Some buildings were set on fire.

Russian TV station Mir-24 said gunshots could be heard sporadically in Almaty on Sunday, but it was unclear whether they were warning shots by the police. Tokayev said Friday that he had authorized the police and military to shoot in order to restore order.

Almaty airport, which was captured by protesters last week, remained closed but was due to resume operations on Monday.

On January 2, protests began in the west of the country against a sharp rise in fuel prices, which spread across the country, apparently reflecting greater discontent.

The same party has ruled Kazakhstan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Anyone who wants to oppose the government has either been suppressed, sidelined or co-opted, despite Kazakhstan’s enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.

Tokayev claims that the demonstrations were ignited by “terrorists” with foreign support, although the protests did not show any apparent leaders or organizations. His office’s statement on Sunday said that the detentions included “significant numbers of foreign nationals” but no details.

It was unclear how many of those arrested remained in custody on Sunday.

The Foreign Ministry in neighboring Kyrgyzstan on Sunday called for the release of the well-known Kyrgyz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, who was seen in a video on Kazakh television that he had flown into the country to protest and that he had been promised $ 200. In the video, which appears to have been held in police custody, Ruzakhunov’s face was injured and he had a large cut on his forehead.

The former head of the Kazakh Defense and Anti-Terrorism Agency has been arrested for attempting to overthrow the government. The arrest of Karim Masimov, announced on Saturday, came just days after Tokayev’s dismissal as head of the National Security Committee.

No details were disclosed of what Masimov allegedly did that would constitute an attempted overthrow of the government. The National Security Committee, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counter-espionage, border protection and anti-terrorism activities.

As the unrest intensified, Kazakhstan’s cabinet of ministers resigned but remained in office temporarily. Tokayev spokesman Brisk Uali said the president would propose a new cabinet on Tuesday.

At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance made up of six former Soviet states, approved the deployment of around 2,500 mostly Russian soldiers to Kazakhstan as peacekeeping forces.

A part of the force is guarding government facilities in the capital Nur-Sultan, which “have made it possible to release some of the forces of the Kazakh law enforcement agencies and transfer them to Almaty to take part in the anti-terrorist operation,” said a statement from Tokayev’s office .

As a sign that the demonstrations were deeper rooted than just the rise in fuel prices, many demonstrators shouted “old man,” a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president until his resignation from Kazakhstan’s independence in 2019 and who was named Tokayev as his successor.

Nazarbayev retained considerable power as chairman of the National Security Council. But Tokayev replaced him as council chairman amid the unrest. possibly aimed at a concession to appease the protesters. However, Nazarbayev adviser Aido Ukibay said on Sunday that this was done on Nazarbayev’s initiative, according to the Kazakh news agency KazTag.

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