More than 160 reported dead in Kazakhstan unrest

More than 160 reported dead in Kazakhstan unrest
4 min read
More than 160 people were reported Sunday to have died in several days of unrest in Kazakhstan and almost 6,000 have been arrested after riots in Central Asia's largest country.
Fuel price rises sparked the unrest that broke out a week ago (Getty)

More than 160 people were reported Sunday to have died in several days of unrest in Kazakhstan and almost 6,000 have been arrested after riots in Central Asia's largest country.

The energy-rich nation of 19 million people has been rocked by a week of upheaval, with a number of foreigners detained over the unrest.

A government-run information portal on Sunday said that 164 people had been killed in the riots, including 103 in the largest city Almaty, which saw some of the fiercest clashes between protesters and security forces. 

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

Officials previously said 26 "armed criminals" had been killed and that 16 security officers had died.

Later Sunday the statement disappeared from the government Telegram channel. 

The health ministry told Russian and Kazakh media that the information had been published in error, but there was no official denial of the previous information, nor was a new figure provided.

In total, 5,800 people have been detained for questioning, including "a substantial number of foreign nationals", the presidency said in a statement Sunday, following a crisis meeting led by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

"The situation has stabilised in all regions of the country," even if security forces were continuing "clean-up" operations, it added.


Live rounds fired


Fuel price rises sparked the unrest that broke out a week ago in the country's west, spreading quickly to 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, put property damage at around 175 million euros ($199 million).

More than 100 businesses and banks were attacked and looted and more than 400 vehicles destroyed, said the ministry, according to media reports.

A relative calm appeared to have returned to Almaty, with police occasionally firing shots in the air to stop people approaching the city's central square, an AFP correspondent said.

Supermarkets were reopening, amid fears of food shortages, media reported.

Kazakhstan said Saturday its former security chief had been arrested for suspected treason.

News of the detention of Karim Masimov, a former prime minister and longtime ally of Kazakhstan's ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, came amid speculation of a power struggle in the ex-Soviet nation.

The domestic intelligence agency, the National Security Committee (KNB), announced Masimov had been detained on Thursday on suspicion of high treason.


US criticises shoot-to-kill policy


The arrest came after protests turned into widespread violence, with government buildings in Almaty stormed and set ablaze.

Masimov, 56, was fired at the height of the unrest on Wednesday, when Tokayev also took over from Nazarbayev as head of the powerful security council.

Nazarbayev's spokesman Aidos Ukibay on Sunday again denied rumours the ex-president had left the country and said he supported the president.

Nazarbayev had voluntarily ceded control of the security council, Ukibay added.

On Friday, Tokayev said 20,000 "armed bandits" had attacked Almaty and he authorised his forces to shoot to kill without warning.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday criticised the shoot-to-kill order and called for it to be scrapped.

"That is something that I absolutely reject. The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded," President Joe Biden's top diplomat told ABC Sunday talk show "This Week." 

Much of the public anger in Kazakhstan appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled the country 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 accuse him and his family of staying in control behind the scenes and accumulating vast wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens.


Foreign intervention


The full picture of the chaos has often been unclear, with widespread disruptions to communications and flights into the country repeatedly cancelled.

Almaty's airport will remain closed "until the situation is stabilised", authorities said Sunday.

Pope Francis spoke of his "sorrow" and called for dialogue to achieve peace in his Angelus prayer on Sunday.

Tokayev has thanked the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for sending troops to help deal with the unrest.

Tokayev says the deployment will be temporary, but Blinken warned on Friday that Kazakhstan may have trouble getting them out.

"I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave," he told reporters.

Tensions between Moscow and the West are at post-Cold War highs over fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, with talks between Russia and the US to take place in Geneva on Monday, after a working dinner on Sunday evening.

Russia has ruled out any concessions at the talks.

"We will not agree to any concession. That is completely excluded," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sunday.