In Kazakhstan, repression intensifies, nearly 6,000 arrests and more than 160 dead

Repression continues in Kazakhstan. Authorities announced on Sunday January 9 that they had arrested nearly 6,000 people in connection with the deadly riots that rocked the largest country in Central Asia this week. In total, 5,800 people, “Including a significant number of foreign nationals”, were arrested in connection with 125 separate investigations, the Kazakhstan presidency reported in a statement, without giving more details.

“The situation is stabilized in all regions of the country”, although the security forces are still carrying out ” cleaning “, added the statement, released after a crisis meeting with the president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Citing the health ministry, several media reported on Sunday that at least 164 people had died in the riots, including 103 in the economic capital, Almaty. This balance sheet, which could not be verified independently, is on the rise. Authorities had so far reported twenty-six demonstrators and sixteen members of the security forces killed and more than 2,000 injured.

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Kazakhstan, a country of about 19 million people rich in hydrocarbons, was rocked this week by riots unprecedented since its independence in 1989, which killed dozens of people. The protest began in the provinces last Sunday after the increase in gas prices, before reaching major cities, including the economic capital, Almaty, where riots broke out, the police firing live ammunition at the demonstrators.

According to the Kazakh interior ministry quoted by local media on Sunday, the material damage caused by the violence was initially estimated at around 175 million euros. More than a hundred businesses and banks were looted and more than 400 vehicles destroyed, according to the same source.

Kazakhstan announced on Saturday the arrest of the former director of intelligence services, Karim Massimov, the first major figure arrested, on suspicion of ” high treason “. Refusing any dialogue with the demonstrators, President Tokayev on Friday authorized his forces to “Shoot to kill”.

Shy back to normal

Relative calm seemed to have returned to Almaty for a few days, the police sometimes firing shots in the air to prevent residents from approaching the city’s central square, an Agence France correspondent noted on Saturday. Press (AFP).

A sign of a timid return to normalcy, around 30 supermarkets reopened in Almaty on Sunday, media reported, amid concerns over shortages. Long lines of vehicles have formed in particular in recent days in front of gas stations, noted an AFP journalist.

But Almaty still bore the scars of those days of violence, with building facades blackened by flames and scorched car wrecks littering the streets. Almaty airport, which was due to reopen on Monday, will ultimately remain closed “Until the situation stabilizes”authorities said on Sunday.

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In addition to the rising cost of living, the figure of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan with an iron fist from 1989 to 2019, was at the center of the protesters’ anger. His spokesperson, Aïdos Oukibaï, once again denied Sunday that Mr. Nazarbayev left the country, assuring that he supported Mr. Tokayev.

Amid rumors of a power struggle, he also claimed that Nazarbayev had ceded the leadership of the National Security Council on his own initiative to Mr. Tokayev, who had abruptly announced this week that he was taking the reins.

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Russian-American tensions

The crisis in Kazakhstan has also given rise to tensions between Russia and the United States, in a context of growing tensions between these two powers. Moscow has deployed troops to the Central Asian country as part of a multinational collective security treaty organization (CSTO) contingent, at Tokayev’s call.

The United States estimated that it would be ” very difficult “ for Kazakhstan to obtain the departure of the Russian military, a criticism which Moscow on Saturday called “Rude”.

While American and Russian representatives are due to meet from Sunday evening in Geneva to talk about Ukraine and Europe, Moscow has ruled out any discussion with Washington on Kazakhstan. “This question does not concern them at all”, swept the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov on Sunday.

For his part, Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his ” pain “ for the victims of the riots in Kazakhstan, calling for « dialogue » to return to peace. “I learned with pain that there were victims during the demonstrations which have taken place in recent days in Kazakhstan”, he said during his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square. “I hope that we will return to social peace as soon as possible through the search for dialogue, social justice and the common good. “

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The World with AFP