Kazakh authorities said on Monday that nearly 8,000 people were being held by police during protests that escalated into violence last week and marked the worst unrest the former Soviet nation has faced since gaining independence 30 years ago.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Monday called the events of last week a “terrorist attack” against the country and called “disinformation” reports that the authorities are fighting peaceful protesters.
Kazakhstan’s interior ministry said a total of 7,939 people have been detained across the country. The National Security Committee, Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and counterterrorism agency, said on Monday that the situation in the country has “stabilized and is under control.”
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Authorities declared Monday a day of mourning for dozens of victims of the unrest of unprecedented violence. The country’s health ministry said Sunday that 164 people, including three children, had been killed in the unrest.
Protests began on January 2 against a near doubling in the prices of one type of vehicle fuel and quickly spread across the country, apparently reflecting wider discontent with the authoritarian government.
In a concession, the government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases. As unrest escalated, the cabinet resigned and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, long-time former leader of Kazakhstan, as head of the National Security Council.
One of the main slogans of last week’s protests, “The old man out,” was a reference to Nazarbayev, who served as president from the independence of Kazakhstan until his resignation in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor . Nazarbayev had retained substantial power at the head of the National Security Council.
Despite the concessions, the protests turned extremely violent for several days, with government buildings set on fire and dozens of people killed. In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, protesters stormed and briefly seized the airport. For several days, sporadic gunshots were reported in the streets of the city.
Authorities declared a state of emergency following the unrest, and Tokayev requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance made up of six former Soviet states. The group authorized the dispatch of around 2,500 troops, mostly Russian, to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.
Tokayev said the protests were instigated by “terrorists” with foreign support, although the protests showed no obvious leader or organization. On Friday, he said he ordered the police and the army to shoot to kill “terrorists” involved in the violence.
In a statement released Monday morning, Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said peaceful protests across the country “have been hijacked by terrorist, extremist and criminal groups.”
“According to preliminary data, the attackers include individuals who have experience in military combat zones in the ranks of radical Islamist groups. Currently, the security forces and the armed forces of Kazakhstan are confronting terrorists, not terrorists.” peaceful protesters, “as some foreign media misrepresent,” the statement read.
Speaking at an extraordinary virtual CSTO summit on Monday, Tokayev vowed to reveal to the world “further evidence” of “terrorist aggression” against Kazakhstan. He said the demands of the peaceful protesters had been “heard and met by the state” and that the ensuing unrest involved “armed militant groups” whose aim 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” orchestrated from abroad.
“We understand that the events in Kazakhstan are neither the first nor the last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our states from outside,” Putin said at the summit.
The Kazakh president added that “constitutional order” in the country has been restored and “large-scale counterterrorism operation” in the country will end soon, as well as the CSTO mission.
The National Security Committee said Monday that “hotbeds of terrorist threats” in the country have been “neutralized”. The committee also told Russia’s Interfax news agency that authorities released famous Kyrgyz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, whose arrest for his alleged involvement in the unrest sparked outrage in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Ruzakhunov was shown in a video on Kazakh TV saying he had traveled to the country to participate in protests and was promised $ 200. In the video, apparently taken in custody, Ruzakhunov’s face was bruised and he had a large cut on his forehead.
Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry has called for Ruzakhunov’s release and the country’s authorities on Monday called for an investigation into accusations of torture.
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