Nearly 8,000 detained in Kazakhstan amid unrest

Nearly 8,000 people were detained by police in Kazakhstan during protests that descended into violence last week, and marked the worst unrest the former Soviet nation has faced since gaining independence 30 years ago, the authorities said.

Kazakhstan’s interior ministry said on Monday that a total of 7,939 people have been detained across the country.

The national security committee, Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and anti-terrorism agency, said the situation in the country has “stabilised and is under control”.

The authorities have declared Monday a day of mourning for dozens of victims of the unprecedentedly violent unrest.

Kazakhstan protests
A crane removes a military truck which was burned during clashes in Almaty (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ/AP)

The demonstrations began on January 2 over a near doubling of prices for a type of vehicle fuel and quickly spread across the country, apparently reflecting wider discontent with the authoritarian government.

In a concession, the government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases.

As the unrest mounted, the ministerial cabinet resigned and president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, former long-time leader of Kazakhstan, as head of the national security council.

Kazakhstan protests
Shopkeepers clean up a looted store in Almaty (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ/AP)

Nazarbayev had retained substantial power at the helm of the national security council.

Despite the concessions, the protests turned extremely violent for several days, with government buildings set ablaze and dozens of people killed.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, the protesters stormed and briefly seized the airport. For several days, sporadic gunfire was reported in the city streets.

Kazakhstan protests
A burned-out bus in Almaty (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ/AP)

The group has authorised sending about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.

Tokayev has said the demonstrations were instigated by “terrorists” with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no obvious leaders or organisation.

On Friday, he said he ordered police and the military to shoot to kill “terrorists” involved in the violence.

In a statement on Monday, Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said that peaceful protests throughout the country “were hijacked by terrorist, extremist and criminal groups”.

“According to preliminary data, the attackers include individuals who have military combat zone experience in the ranks of radical Islamist groups.

The national security committee that “hotspots of terrorist threats” in the country have been “neutralised”.

Speaking at an extraordinary virtual summit of CSTO on Monday, Tokayev promised to reveal to the world “additional evidence” of a “terrorist aggression” against Kazakhstan.

He stressed that the demands of peaceful protesters have been “heard and met by the state”, and the unrest that followed involved “groups of armed militants” whose goal was to overthrow the government.

Russian president Vladimir Putin echoed his sentiment and called the unrest “an attack on the country” and “an act of aggression” masterminded from abroad.

“We understand that the events in Kazakhstan are not the first and not the last attempt at interfering in the internal affairs of our states from the outside,” Putin said at the summit.

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