Kazakh authorities said on Sunday that 164 people, including a 4-year-old girl, were killed in a week of protests that marked the worst unrest since the former Soviet republic gained independence 30 years ago. .
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said order had been restored in the Central Asian country and the government had regained control of all buildings that had been taken by protesters. Some buildings were set on fire.
Sporadic gunshots were heard in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city on Sunday, Russian television channel Mir-24 reported, but it was not clear whether these were warning shots from the forces of the United States. ‘order. Tokayev said on Friday that he had authorized a shoot order to kill the police and the army to restore order.
The protests, which started in the western part of Kazakhstan, began on January 2 due to a sharp increase in fuel prices and have spread across the country, apparently reflecting wider discontent with the government. authoritarian. They instigated a Russian-led military alliance to send troops to the country.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Tokayev’s order “something that I resolutely reject”.
“The shoot to kill order, to the extent that it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded,” he told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.
“And Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend state institutions, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns they have raised – concerns economic concerns, ”added Blinken.
The same party has ruled Kazakhstan since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Anyone aspiring to oppose the government has either been suppressed, sidelined or co-opted, amid widespread economic hardship despite huge reservations. of petroleum, natural gas, uranium and minerals.
About 5,800 people were arrested during the unrest, Tokayev’s office said.
The death toll of 164, reported by state news channel Khabar-24 and citing the health ministry, was a significant increase from previously reported totals. It was not clear whether this number referred only to civilians or whether deaths by law enforcement were included. Kazakh authorities said earlier Sunday that 16 members of the police or national guard were killed.
The ministry said 103 of the deaths had occurred in Almaty, and Kazakhstan’s children’s rights ombudsperson said three of those killed were minors, including a 4-year-old girl.
The ministry had earlier reported that more than 2,200 people had been treated for injuries, and the Home Office said around 1,300 security guards were injured.
Almaty airport, which was taken over by protesters last week, remained closed but is expected to resume operations on Monday.
Tokayev said the protests were instigated by “terrorists” with foreign support, although the protests showed no obvious leader or organization. Sunday’s statement from his office said the detentions included “a significant number of foreign nationals,” but gave no details.
It is not known how many of those detained remained in detention.
The foreign ministry of neighboring Kyrgyzstan on Sunday demanded the release of famous Kyrgyz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, who was shown in a video on Kazakh TV saying he had traveled to the country to participate in protests and that he had been promised $ 200. In the video, apparently taken in custody, Ruzakhunov’s face was bruised and he had a large cut on his forehead.
The former head of the Kazakh counter-intelligence and counterterrorism agency has been arrested for attempting to overthrow the government. Karim Masimov’s arrest, which was announced on Saturday, came just days after he was removed from his post as head of the National Security Committee by Tokayev.
No details were given of what Masimov 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.
As unrest escalated, Kazakhstan’s cabinet minister resigned but remained in office temporarily. Tokayev spokesman Brisk Uali said the president would propose a new cabinet on Tuesday.
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.
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 The Tokayev office.
As a sign that the protests were more entrenched than just above rising fuel prices, many protesters shouted “Old Man Out”, a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had been president since independence from Kazakhstan until his resignation in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor. .
Nazarbayev retained substantial power as the head of the National Security Council. But Tokayev replaced him as head of the council amid the unrest. possibly aiming at a concession to appease the protesters. However, Nazarbayev’s adviser Aido Ukibay said on Sunday that it was done at the initiative of Nazarbayev, according to the Kazakh news agency KazTag.