Central Asia

Thousands detained after Kazakhstan unrest

Published : January 10, 2022 16:14 IST

The uprising that left dozens dead and caused large-scale property damage has mostly subsided. Photo: TURAR KAZANGAPOV/REUTERS

Almost 8,000 people have been arrested after deadly protests gripped Kazakhstan and prompted a political crisis.

The number of people arrested by security forces during the violent anti-government protests in Kazakhstan has reached 7,939, the Interior Ministry announced on January 10. A statement from President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's office said "a substantial number of foreign nationals" were among the detainees.

Authorities have launched a brutal clampdown and were able to largely bring the situation under control in the country's largest city, Almaty, after Russia responded to Tokayev's call for help by sending several thousand soldiers. "The situation has stabilized in all regions of the country," the presidential statement said. On January 9, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told U.S. outlet ABC News, "The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded."

What is the aftermath of the violence?

State television, citing the country's Health Ministry, reported on January 9 that 164 people had been killed during the unrest and over 2,200 were injured. This marks a sharp jump from a previous toll provided by the government, when officials said 40 people have died, including protesters.

Speaking from the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, on January 9, Interior Minister Erlan Turgumbayev gave a rundown of the damage he claimed was left by the protests and clashes over recent days. Some 400 cars, mostly police cars, were destroyed in the violence, as well as more than 100 shopping centers and banks. Detainees are facing charges of violence against government officials, hooliganism, murder and theft, with 125 pre-trial investigations already having begun.

Why did the protest start?

Citizens took to the streets following a steep rise in fuel prices last weekend, but the protests quickly grew in scope to encompass a series of economic and political grievances. Most of their anger was directed at the country's former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country from the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s before stepping down and naming Tokayev as his successor in 2019. However, Nazarbayev kept control of the country's powerful Security Council, and was only ousted by Tokayev during the unrest this week.

After the violence led to dozens of deaths among both protesters and security forces, Tokayev ordered the security forces on January 7 to open fire at protesters without warning, referring to protesters as "bandits" and "terrorists." Peacekeeping forces from the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) entered the country in their thousands after Tokayev appealed for assistance against the protests.

ab, ar/dj, wd (dpa, Interfax, Reuters, AFP)