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Kazakh Authorities Say Nearly 6,000 Detained In 'Anti-Terrorism' Sweep


Security forces stand guard near a burned truck while checking vehicles in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, on January 8.
Security forces stand guard near a burned truck while checking vehicles in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, on January 8.

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh authorities said on January 9 that they have detained nearly 6,000 people in security operations around Kazakhstan to quell the worst violence the country has seen in its 30 years of independence.

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said at least 5,969 people had been detained so far. He said 133 of them were being held on suspicion of committing “serious crimes.”

The news website reported that at least 164 people were confirmed dead since unrest broke out on January 5.

According to, 103 of the deaths occurred in the country’s largest city, Almaty.

Internet and phone connections have been problematic in Kazakhstan since the state-run KazakhTelecom blocked services amid angry nationwide protests on January 5, making independent confirmation of casualty figures difficult.

Kazakh media on January 9 carried comments from Aidos Ukibay, the spokesman for former president Nursultan Nazarbaev, who said Nazarbaev made the decision to step down from his powerful post as secretary of the country’s security council on January 5.

Ukibay said Nazarbaev did so because he “was well aware that riots and terror demanded a prompt, tough and uncompromising response from the country's leadership.”

Ukibay said Nazarbaev “has always supported efforts to protect the people, the country, and the future of the nation.”

Nazarbaev has not been seen in public since December 28 when he visited Russia. But Ukibay said on his Twitter account on January 8 that Nazarbaev was in the capital Nur-Sultan and was calling on Kazakhstan's people to rally around President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev.

On January 5, Nazarbaev was widely reported to have been sacked by Kazakh President Toqaev along with the head of the country’s National Security Committee, longtime Nazarbaev ally Karim Masimov.

Kazakh authorities announced on January 8 that Masimov was under arrest and faces charges of treason.

Toqaev said on January 9 he would announce personnel changes in the government on January 11. He didn't elaborate.

Order has been restored in most of Kazakhstan, though the country’s Khabat-24 television channel reported on January 9 that there had been another outbreak of fighting between security forces and protesters in Almaty overnight.

Small groups of protesters also were continuing to demonstrate on January 9 in the western cities of Zhanaozen and Aqtau.

Small Protests Continue As Kazakh Government Tightens Grip
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The protests started in those cities on January 2 in response to sharp increases in fuel prices. As emonstrations quickly spread throughout the country, they turned into protests against the failure of authorities to make good on promises of economic and political reforms.

Authorities have appealed to people to stay off the streets while they continue a security operation against what President Toqaev has called “foreign-trained terrorists."

Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry and head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev have called on Kazakh authorities to explain why one their citizens was shown on Kazakh television confessing to being a foreign terrorist.

The television station Qazqstan Ulttyq Telearnasy showed Vikram Ruzakhunov, whose face bore the marks of a recent beating, confessing that traveled to Kazakhstan to join the protests there after receiving a phone call on January 1 from someone promising to pay him 90,000 tenge (about $200) if he did so.

The Kazakh television station described Ruzakhunov as “unemployed.”

But RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that Ruzakhunov is, in fact, a popular jazz pianist who regularly travels to Almaty for concerts.

Ruzakhunov's relatives told RFE/RL that he had bought his plane ticket to Almaty on December 16 in order to fly into the city on January 2 and attend a concert.

On the night of January 8 police detained civil activists Aibek Sabitov, Zhanmurat Ashtayev, Nurlan Syzdyk, Lyazzat Dosmagambetova at their homes in Shymkent, according to their relatives and other activists.

Ashtayev's wife, Moldir Nuranova,says dozens of armed men dressed in black and wearing masks had stormed into their home in the middle of the night.

Ashtayev's relatives said they tried to protect him. But they said Ashtayev left voluntarily after a gun was put to the head of his brother.

They also said Ashtayev was beaten by police.

Toqaev's office says he spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 9, "noting that the situation in the country is stabilizing."

Toqaev also said that "the focus of terrorist attacks remains" and "therefore, the fight against terrorism will continue in a serious manner."

Toqaev requested help from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as the protests spread on January 5.

The CSTO quickly sent more than 3,000 troops to Kazakhstan, mainly Russian soldiers, but also small forces from CSTO member states Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports that those troops are now guarding key infrastructure facilities, including Almaty's airport, several government buildings in Almaty, and the Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome that Russia continues to use for its rocket launches.

With reporting by RFE/RL Kazakh Service correspondents in Nur-Sultan and RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondents in Bishkek
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