Kazakhstan detains former security chief for treason as ex-president denies rumours he fled
The former head of Kazakhstan's domestic intelligence agency has been detained on suspicion of high treason, the agency said Saturday, after he was fired amid violent protests.
The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement that its former chief Karim Masimov had been detained on Thursday after it launched an investigation into charges of high treason.
"On January 6 of this year the National Security Committee launched a pre-trial investigation into high treason," the statement said.
"On the same day, on suspicion of committing this crime, former chairman of the KNB K.K. Masimov was detained and placed in a temporary detention centre, along with others."
Masimov, a close ally of Kazakhstan's founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev, was sacked from his post as head of the KNB this week after protesters in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty stormed government buildings.
His detention came as Nazarbayev's press secretary said on Saturday that the longtime former leader was is in the capital Nur-Sultan, dismissing rumours of him leaving the Central Asian country following the unprecedented unrest.
Spokesman Aidos Ukibay said on Twitter that Nazarbayev was in "direct contact" with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, whom Nazarbayev hand-picked as his successor after stepping down in 2019.
Nazarbayev "calls on everyone to rally around the president of Kazakhstan to overcome current challenges and ensure the integrity of the country," Ukibay said.
He also called against spreading "knowingly false and speculative information," likely referring to unconfirmed reports that Nazarbayev had fled the country.
The 81-year-old former Kazakh leader has not made a public appearance since the start of protests earlier this week that erupted into violence.
Much of the anger appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power but who was widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes.