Kazakhstan says 164 killed in week of protests over sharp jump in fuel prices, other grievances

Kazakhstan’s health ministry said on Sunday that 164 people had been killed in protests that rocked the country over the past week.

The figures reported on state news channel Khabar-24 are a significant increase from previous tally. It is not clear whether the deaths relate only to civilians or whether law enforcement deaths are included. Kazakh authorities said earlier Sunday that 16 police officers or national guards had been killed. Authorities previously gave the death toll among civilians at 26.

Most of the deaths – 103 – took place in Almaty, the country’s largest city, where protesters seized government buildings and set some on fire, the ministry said. The country’s children’s rights ombudsperson said three of those killed were minors, including a four-year-old girl.

The ministry previously reported that more than 2,200 people had been treated for injuries caused by the protests, and the Interior Ministry said around 1,300 security officers were injured.

Kazakhstan’s president’s office said about 5,800 people were arrested by police in protests that turned violent last week and prompted a Russian-led military alliance to send troops to the country.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said on Sunday that the situation had stabilized and that authorities had regained control of administrative buildings that were occupied by protesters, with some places set on fire.

This photo taken on Saturday shows destroyed ATMs in central Almaty after violence erupted following protests against rising fuel prices. (Alexandr Bogdanov / AFP / Getty Images)

Russian television channel Mir-24 said sporadic gunshots were heard in Almaty on Sunday, but it was not clear whether they were warning shots from law enforcement. Tokayev said on Friday he had allowed police and military to shoot to kill to restore order.

Almaty airport, which was taken over by protesters last week, remained closed but is expected to resume operations on Monday.

Protests against a sharp increase in LPG fuel prices began in the west of the country on January 2 and spread throughout Kazakhstan, apparently reflecting discontent extending beyond fuel prices.

The same party has ruled Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. All the prominent figures aspiring to oppose the government have either been suppressed, dismissed or co-opted – and financial difficulties are widespread despite the huge reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.

Tokayev maintains that the protests were started by “terrorists” with foreign support, although the protests did not show any obvious leader or organization. His office statement on Sunday said the detentions included “a significant number of foreign nationals” but gave no details.

It is not known how many people detained remained in detention on Sunday.

The former head of the security agency arrested

The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and counterterrorism agency has been arrested for attempting to overthrow the government. Karim Masimov’s arrest, which was announced on Saturday, came just days after Tokayev removed him from his post as head of the National Security Committee.

No details were given of what Masimov allegedly did that would constitute an attempt to overthrow the government. The National Security Committee, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, border guard service and counterterrorism activities.

Russian citizens are heading to an airport to board Russian aerospace forces planes from Almaty to Moscow on Sunday. (Vasily Krestyaninov / The Associated Press)

At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance of six former Soviet states, authorized the dispatch of approximately 2,500 troops, mostly Russian, to Kazakhstan as soldiers from the peace.

Part of the force guards government facilities in the capital, Nur-Sultan, which “freed part of the Kazakh security forces and redeployed them to Almaty to participate in the anti-terrorism operation”, according to a statement from Tokayev’s office.

As a sign that the protests were more entrenched than the mere rise in fuel prices, many protesters shouted “Old man out,” a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had been president since independence from Kazakhstan until his resignation in 2019. and anointed Tokayev as his successor.

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

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