The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and anti-terror agency has been arrested on charges of attempted government overthrow in the wake of violent protests that the president has blamed on foreign-backed terrorists.
The arrest of Karim Masimov was announced by the National Security Committee, which Mr Masimov headed until he was removed this week by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Authorities have said that security forces killed 26 demonstrators in this week’s unrest and that 18 law-enforcement officers died.
More than 4,400 people have been arrested, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.
The unrest began in the country’s far west as protests against a sharp rise in prices for liquefied petroleum gas that is widely used as vehicle fuel, and spread to the country’s largest city, Almaty, where demonstrators seized and burned government buildings.
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 counter-terrorist operation”, said a statement from Mr Tokayev’s office.
Mr Tokayev said on Friday that he had authorised security forces to shoot to kill those participating in unrest.
On Saturday, there were no immediate reports of unrest in Almaty, but police dispersed a demonstration and made detentions in the city of Aktau, while sporadic gunfire was heard in Kyzylorda, the Russian agency Sputnik said.
Although the protests began as denunciations of the near-doubling of fuel prices at the start of the year, their spread and intense violence indicate they reflect widespread dissatisfaction in the country run by the same party for more than 30 years.
Many demonstrators were shouting “old man out”, a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president from independence until resigning in 2019 and anointing Mr Tokayev as his successor.
Mr Nazarbayev, who was given the title Ebasy (leader of the nation), retained substantial power after his resignation as head of the National Security Council.
But Mr Tokayev removed him as council head amid the unrest, possibly aiming at a concession to mollify protesters.
Mr Nazarbayev remained invisible during the chaos, but on Saturday his spokesman said he is in the capital and “calls on everyone to rally around the president of Kazakhstan to overcome current challenges and ensure the integrity of our country”.