Nearly 8,000 detained amid unrest in Kazakhstan

About 8,000 people were detained by police during protests that escalated into violence in Kazakhstan last week, officials said, and the former Soviet nation suffered the worst unrest since it gained independence 30 years ago.

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

The National Security Committee, Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism agency, said the situation in the country was “stable and under control”.

Authorities have declared Monday a day of mourning for dozens of victims of unprecedented violent unrest.

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A crane lifts a military truck that burned down during the conflict in Almaty (Vladimir Tretyakov / NUR.KZ / AP)

The country’s health ministry said on Sunday that 164 people, including three children, had died.

The demonstration began on January 2 at the nearly doubling of prices for one type of vehicle fuel and quickly spread across the country, apparently reflecting widespread discontent with the authoritarian government.

In a concession, the government announced a 180-day price limit on vehicle fuels and a moratorium on utility rate hikes.

As the unrest escalated, the Council of Ministers resigned and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former longtime leader of Kazakhstan, as head of the National Security Council.

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Shoppers clean up a looted shop in Almaty (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ/AP)

One of the main slogans of last week’s protests, “Old Man Out”, was a reference to Nazarbayev, who served as Kazakhstan’s independence president until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor.

Nazarbayev retained substantial power at the top of the National Security Council.

Despite the concessions, the protests turned extremely violent for several days, with government buildings set on fire and dozens killed.

In Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, protesters stormed the airport and briefly occupied the airport. There were reports of sporadic firing on the streets of the city for several days.

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A burnt out bus in Almaty (Vladimir Tretyakov / NUR.KZ / AP)

The authorities declared a state of emergency over the unrest, and Tokayev requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states.

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

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

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

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

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

We understand that the events in Kazakhstan are not the first and not the last attempts to interfere with the internal affairs of our states from outside.Russian President Vladimir Putin

“Currently, Kazakhstan’s law enforcement agencies and armed forces are not confronting ‘peaceful protesters’, but terrorists, as some foreign media misrepresent,” the statement said.

National Security Committee that “hotspots of terrorist threats” in the country have been “neutralised”.

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

He insisted that the demands of the peaceful protesters had been “heard and met by the state”, and that the unrest that followed included “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” masterminds from abroad.

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