Tom Swarbrick 10pm - 1am
‘5,800 detained’ in week of protests in Kazakhstan
9 January 2022, 11:04
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said the detentions included ‘a sizable number of foreign nationals’.
About 5,800 people were detained by police during protests that developed into violence last week and prompted a Russia-led military alliance to send troops to the country, the office of Kazakhstan’s president said on Sunday.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said the situation in the country has stabilised and authorities have regained control of administrative buildings which had been occupied by protesters and some set on fire.
Russian TV station Mir-24 said sporadic gunfire was heard in Almaty, the country’s largest city, on Sunday, but it was unclear whether they were warning shots by law enforcement.
Mr Tokayev said on Friday that he had authorised police and the military to shoot to kill to restore order.
Almaty’s airport, which had been taken by protesters last week, remained closed but was expected to resume operating on Monday.
Protests over a sharp rise in prices of LPG fuel began in western Kazakhstan on January 2 and spread throughout the country, apparently reflecting discontent extending beyond the fuel prices.
The same party has ruled Kazakhstan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Any figures aspiring to oppose the government have either been repressed, sidelined, or co-opted, and financial hardship is widespread despite the country’s enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.
Mr Tokayev contends that the demonstrations were ignited by “terrorists” with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no obvious leaders or organisation.
The statement from his office on Sunday said the detentions included “a sizable number of foreign nationals”, but gave no details.
It was unclear how many of those detained remained in custody on Sunday.
The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and anti-terror agency has been arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
The arrest of Karim Masimov, which was announced on Saturday, came just days after he was removed as head of the National Security Committee by Mr Tokayev.
No details were given about what Mr Masimov was alleged to have done which would constitute such an attempt.
The National Security Committee, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counter-intelligence, the border guards service and anti-terror activities.
Authorities say security forces killed 26 demonstrators in this week’s unrest and that 16 law enforcement officers died.
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”, according to a statement from Mr Tokayev’s office.
In a sign that the demonstrations were more deeply rooted than just the fuel price rise, many protesters shouted “Old man out” – a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president from Kazakhstan’s independence until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Mr Tokayev as his successor.
Mr Nazarbayev retained substantial power as head of the National Security Council, but Mr Tokayev replaced him as council head amid this week’s unrest, possibly in a bid to mollify protesters.
However, Mr Nazarbayev’s adviser, Aido Ukibay, said on Sunday that it was done at Mr Nazarbayev’s initiative, according to the Kazakh news agency KazTag.