Kazakhstan says 164 people, including a 4-year-old, are dead after week of unrest

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MOSCOW (AP) – Kazakh officials said Sunday that 164 people, including a 4-year-old girl, were killed in a week of protests, the worst since the former Soviet republic gained independence 30 years ago.

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,,[S]Something I strongly disapprove of.’,

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– US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the shooting order issued by President Kasim-Jomart Tokayev amid widespread protests

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said order had been restored in the Central Asian country and the government had regained control of all the buildings that were occupied by protesters. Some buildings were set on fire.

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According to Russian TV station Mir-24, sporadic gunshots were heard in Kazakhstan’s largest city of Almaty on Sunday, but it was not clear whether they were warning shots by law enforcement. Tokayev said on Friday he had authorized the police and army to shoot to restore order.

Demonstrations over a sharp rise in fuel prices began on January 2 in the western part of Kazakhstan and spread across the country, apparently reflecting widespread discontent with the authoritarian government. He prompted the Russian-led military coalition to send troops to the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Tokayev’s order “something that I strongly disapprove of.”

“The shoot-to-kill order, as far as it exists, is wrong and should be cancelled,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“And Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, protect the institutions of the state, but to do so respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns they have raised – economic concerns, some political concerns,” Blinken said.

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The same party has ruled Kazakhstan, often transliterated as Kazakhstan, since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Anyone willing to oppose the government has been either repressed, sidelined or co-opted amid widespread economic hardship, despite the country’s vast reserves. of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.

Tokayev’s office said some 5,800 people were detained during the unrest.

The 164 deaths were a significant increase from the previously announced total, reported by state news channel Khabar-24 and citing the health ministry. It was unclear whether that number referred only to civilians or if law enforcement deaths were included. Kazakh officials said earlier on Sunday that 16 members of the police or national guard had been killed.

The ministry said there were 103 deaths in Almaty and the Kazakhstan Ombudsman for the Rights of Children said three of those killed were minors, including a 4-year-old girl.

The ministry previously reported that more than 2,200 people sought treatment for the wounded, and the interior ministry said about 1,300 security officers were injured.

Almaty’s airport, which was taken over by protesters last week, remained closed but was expected to resume operations on Monday.

Tokayev said the demonstrations were instigated by “terrorists” with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no clear leaders or organisations. Sunday’s statement from his office said a “large number of foreign nationals” were involved in the detention, but gave no details.

It is not clear how many of those taken into custody remain in custody.

Neighboring Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry on Sunday called for the release of well-known Kyrgyz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, who was shown in a video on Kazakh television saying he had gone to the country to take part in the protests and asked them to pay $200. was promised. In the video, apparently taken in police custody, Ruzakhunov had bruises on his face and a large cut on his forehead.

The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-terrorism agency has been arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. The arrest of Karim Massimov, which was announced on Saturday, came just days after Tokayev was removed from his post as head of the National Security Committee.

No details were given about what Massimov had done that would attempt to overthrow the government. The National Security Committee, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, border guard service and counter-terrorism activities.

As the unrest escalated, Kazakhstan’s ministerial cabinet resigned but temporarily remained in their positions. Tokayev’s spokesman Brisk Uli said the president would propose a new cabinet on Tuesday.

At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military coalition of six former Soviet states, authorized the sending of about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.

According to a statement, some forces are guarding government facilities in the capital Nur-Sultan, which “made it possible to release parts of Kazakhstan’s law enforcement agencies and redeploy them to Almaty to participate in counter-terrorism operations.” made.” Tokayev’s office.

In a sign that the demonstrations were more deeply rooted than fuel price hikes, many protesters shouted “Old Man Out”, a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was Kazakhstan’s independence president until he resigned in 2019 – having Moved the capital from Almaty to Nur-Sultan A quarter century ago – and anointed Tokayev as his successor.

Nazarbayev retained substantial power as head of the National Security Council.

From the Archives (March 2019): Nazarbayev abruptly resigns as President of Kazakhstan after three decades

But in the midst of the unrest Tokayev replaced him as head of the council. Possibly for the purpose of a concession to pacify the protesters. However, Nazarbayev’s adviser Aido Ukibe said on Sunday that this was done at the initiative of Nazarbayev, according to Kazakh news agency KazTag.

Marketwatch contributed.

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