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164 people, including two children, killed in violent unrest

A total of 164 people, including two children, were killed in violent unrest in Kazakhstan over the last week, Russia’s Sputnik news agency cited the health ministry as saying on Sunday.

The ministry said that 103 people had died in Kazakhstan’s main city of Almaty, where the worst of the violence took place.

About 5,800 people were detained by police during the protests that developed into violence last week and prompted a Russia-led military alliance to send troops to the country, the office of Kazakhstan’s president said, also on Sunday.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said the situation in the country has stabilised and authorities have regained control of administrative buildings which had been occupied by protesters and some set on fire.

Russian television station Mir-24 said sporadic gunfire was heard in Almaty, the country’s largest city, on Sunday, but it was unclear whether they were warning shots by law enforcement.

Mr Tokayev said on Friday that 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.

Protests over a sharp rise in prices of fuel began in western Kazakhstan on January 2nd and spread throughout the country, apparently reflecting discontent extending beyond the fuel prices.

Leadership

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 the country’s enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.

Mr Tokayev contends that 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 sizeable number of foreign nationals”, but gave no details.

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

The former head of Kazakhstan’s counterintelligence and anti-terror agency has been arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

The arrest of Karim Masimov, which was announced on Saturday, came just days after he was removed as head of the National Security Committee by Mr Tokayev.

No details were given about what Mr Masimov was alleged to have done which would constitute such an attempt.

The National Security Committee, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, the border guards service and anti-terror activities.

Russian peacekeepers

At Mr Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, 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 counterterrorist operation”, according to a statement from Mr Tokayev’s office.

Russian combat vehicle driver waiting at an airfield in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photograph: Russian defence ministry/AFP via Getty Images
Russian combat vehicle driver waiting at an airfield in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photograph: Russian defence ministry/AFP via Getty Images

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

Mr Nazarbayev retained substantial power as head of the National Security Council, but Mr Tokayev replaced him as council head amid this week’s unrest, possibly in a bid to mollify protesters.

However, Mr Nazarbayev’s adviser, Aido Ukibay, said on Sunday that it was done at Mr Nazarbayev’s initiative, according to the Kazakh news agency KazTag. – AP/Reuters

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