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Former Kazakhstan counterterrorism chief arrested over protests

The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and counterterrorism agency has been arrested for attempting to overthrow the government following violent protests the president blamed on foreign-backed terrorists.

Karim Masimov’s arrest was announced on Saturday by the National Security Committee, which Masimov headed until he was ousted this week by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Authorities say security forces killed 26 protesters in this week’s unrest and 18 law enforcement officials have died. More than 4,400 people have been arrested, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

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The protests in the Central Asian country were the most widespread since Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The unrest began in the far west of the country following protests against a sharp rise in the prices of liquefied petroleum gas which is widely used as fuel for vehicles. The protests spread to the country’s largest city, Almaty, where protesters seized and torched government buildings.

Kazakh soldiers patrol a street after clashes in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, January 7, 2022 (Associated Press)

At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance made up of six former Soviet states, authorized the dispatch of around 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan in as peacekeepers.

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Part of the force guards government facilities in the capital, Nur-Sultan, which “freed part of the Kazakh security forces and redeployed them to Almaty to participate in the anti-terrorism operation”, according to a statement from Tokayev’s office.

Tokayev said on Friday that he had allowed security forces to shoot to kill those participating in the unrest. On Saturday, no incidents were immediately reported in Almaty. Police broke up a protest and arrested people in Aktau town, while sporadic gunshots were heard in Kyzylorda, Russian news agency Sputnik reported.

People walk past cars, which were set on fire after clashes, on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, January 7, 2022.

People walk past cars, which were set on fire after clashes, on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, January 7, 2022.
(Associated press)

Sputnik later reported a clash outside of Almaty on the main road to Kyrgyzstan, but its size and intensity were unclear. Russian internet broadcaster Dozhd said police fired guns into the air and on the ground outside the town’s morgue.

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No details were given of what Masimov, the former head of the security agency, allegedly did that would constitute an attempt to overthrow the government. The National Security Committee, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, border guard service and counterterrorism activities.

A car, which was set on fire after clashes, is seen on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, January 7, 2022.

A car, which was set on fire after clashes, is seen on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, January 7, 2022.
(Associated press)

Although the protests began as denunciations of the near-doubling of LPG prices earlier this year, their spread and intense violence indicate that they reflect widespread discontent in the former Soviet republic ruled by the same party since. over 30 years.

Many protesters shouted “Old man out,” a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president from Kazakhstan’s independence until his resignation in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor.

Nazarbayev, who received the title “ebasy,” or leader of the nation, retained substantial power as head of the National Security Council. But Tokayev removed him from his post as council chief amid this week’s unrest, possibly aiming for a concession to appease protesters.

Nazarbayev remained invisible during the chaos, but on Saturday his spokesperson said that Nazarbayev was in the capital and “called on everyone to rally around the President of Kazakhstan to overcome the current challenges and ensure the integrity of our country. “.

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