More than 150 deaths and thousands arrested after Kazakhstan unrest

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More than 150 people have died and almost 6,000 have been arrested in Kazakhstan following violent riots in Kazakhstan this week, media reported Sunday citing the country's health ministry.

At least 164 people were killed in the riots, including 103 in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty, which saw some of the fiercest clashes between protesters and security forces.

The new figures – which have not been independently verified – mark a drastic increase in the death toll.

The energy-rich country of around 19 million people has been rocked by a week of riots with dozens killed.

Fuel price rises sparked the unrest a week ago in western provincial areas but they quickly reached large cities, including the economic hub Almaty, where riots erupted and police opened fire using live rounds.

The interior ministry, quoted Sunday by local media, said initial estimates put property damage at around €175 million ($198 million).

More than 100 businesses and banks were attacked and looted and more than 400 vehicles destroyed, the ministry was quoted as saying.

Order 'restored', Almaty airport still closed

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said Sunday that order has been restored in the country and that authorities have regained control of administrative buildings that were occupied by protesters, some of which were set on fire.

The Russian TV station Mir-24 said sporadic gunfire was heard in Almaty on Sunday but it was unclear whether they were warning shots by law enforcement. Tokayev on Friday said he had authorised police and the military to shoot to kill to restore order.

Almaty’s airport, which had been taken by protesters last week, remained closed but was expected to resume operating on Monday.

The same party has ruled Kazakhstan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Any figures aspiring to oppose the government have either been repressed, sidelined, or co-opted and financial hardship is widespread despite Kazakhstan's enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.

Tokayev contends the demonstrations were ignited by “terrorists” with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no obvious leaders or organisation. The statement from his office on Sunday said the detentions included “a sizable number of foreign nationals”, but gave no details.

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

‘Old man out!’

The former head of Kazakhstan’s counterintelligence and anti-terror agency has been arrested on charges of attempted government overthrow. The arrest of Karim Masimov, which was announced Saturday, came just days after he was removed as head of the National Security Committee by Tokayev.

No details were given about what Masimov was alleged to have done that would constitute an attempted government overthrow. The National Security Committee, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, the border guards service and anti-terror activities.

At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states, authorised sending about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.

Some of the force is guarding government facilities in the capital, Nur-Sultan, which “made it possible to release part of the forces of Kazakhstani law enforcement agencies and redeploy them to Almaty to participate in the counter-terrorist operation”, according to a statement from Tokayev’s office.

In a sign that the demonstrations were more deeply rooted than just the fuel price rise, many demonstrators shouted, “Old man out” in a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president from Kazakhstan’s independence until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor.

Nazarbayev retained substantial power as head of the National Security Council. But Tokayev replaced him as council head during this week’s unrest. Amid questions over whether Tokayev had succeeded in sidelining his power predecessor, Nazarbayev's adviser Aido Ukibay said Sunday that it was done at Nazarbayev's initiative, according to the Kazakh news agency KazTag.

.(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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