Putin and Kazakhstan leader Tokayev discuss steps 'to restore order'

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakhstani counterpart Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held a "lengthy" phone conversation to discuss the situation in Kazakhstan following unprecedented unrest, the Kremlin said Saturday.

It said that Tokayev informed Putin "in detail" about the situation in the country, "noting that it is developing towards stabilisation," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Tokayev also thanked the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) military alliance and "especially" Russia for its help in quelling the protests that broke out earlier this week.

"The presidents exchanged views on the measures taken to restore order in Kazakhstan," the Kremlin said.

The two leaders agreed to remain in "constant" contact and to hold a CSTO video conference meeting in the coming days, the Kremlin added.

Long seen as one of the most stable of the five ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, Kazakhstan plunged into chaos this week, prompting Tokayev to call in troops from the Moscow-led alliance.

Eerie calm

After days of violence, a relative calm returned to Kazakhstan on Saturday. Former Kazakhstani president Nursultan Nazarbayev called on the population to support the government to face this crisis.

In the country's biggest city Almaty, an uneasy calm pervaded Saturday and few people were out on the streets.

The military continued to guard the square adjacent to the mayor's office that was stormed by protesters and left badly burned, firing warning shots whenever passersby were slow to heed warnings to stay away from a checkpoint.

There were no signs of fresh fighting, but pensioner Leonid Kiselyev, 68, said his car had been hit by gunfire at around 8:30 am as he drove past the city administration, pointing to a bullet hole in the boot.

"Yesterday it was calm so I drove here," said a shaken Kiselyev, who was standing in a long queue at a petrol station where drivers were waiting for fuel to arrive.

Nazarbayev called on the population to support the government in dealing with the crisis facing the country, his spokesman said Saturday. "He calls on all citizens to rally around the president of Kazakhstan to enable him to overcome this crisis and ensure the integrity of the country," wrote his spokesman, Aidos Ukibay, on Twitter.

Former security head detained on treason charges

The former head of Kazakhstan's domestic security agency was detained on suspicion of treason, the agency said Saturday, after he was fired amid unprecedented unrest.

The detention of Karim Masimov, a former prime minister and longtime Nazarbayev ally, was the first major move against a top official in the biggest crisis the ex-Soviet Central Asian republic has faced in years.

Tokayev sacked Masimov earlier this week after protests over rising fuel prices erupted into widespread violence, with government buildings in the largest city Almaty stormed and set ablaze.

Authorities said Friday the situation was largely under control, but Tokayev issued a shoot-to-kill order and rejected any negotiations with protesters.

Masimov, 56, twice served as Nazarbayev's prime minister and had been head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, since 2016.

The KNB said in a statement that it had launched an investigation into charges of high treason on Thursday and that Masimov had been detained the same day "on suspicion of committing this crime".

More than 4,000 detained

The initial cause of the protests was a spike in fuel prices but a government move to lower the prices and the sacking of the cabinet failed to stop demonstrations continuing.

The violence erupted when police fired tear gas and stun grenades at thousands protesting in Almaty late on Tuesday.

The next day protesters stormed government buildings including the city administration headquarters and presidential residence, setting them ablaze, and a nationwide state of emergency was declared.

The interior ministry said 26 "armed criminals" had been killed in the unrest.

It said 18 security officers had been killed and more than 740 wounded.

More than 4,000 people have been detained, including some foreigners, according to the ministry.

On Saturday Tokayev's office said he had declared national day of mourning for Monday.

Much of the anger appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power.

Many protesters shouted "Old Man Out!" in reference to Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan.

Critics have accused him and his family of staying in control behind the scenes and accumulating vast wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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