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Kazakh Authorities Blame Deadly Ethnic Clashes On 'Criminal Groups'

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Hundreds Flee To Kyrgyzstan After Deadly Ethnic Clashes In Rural Kazakhstan
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WATCH: Hundreds Flee To Kyrgyzstan After Deadly Ethnic Clashes In Rural Kazakhstan

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev blamed "criminal groups" for the deadly ethnic clashes in the southern region of Zhambyl that claimed 11 lives on February 7-8.

During a visit to the Jambyl region, Tokayev said the clashes were caused by one group trying to take over another group's cross-border smuggling business.

"In a word, because of control over sources of illegal income, a conflict arose between the two criminal groups," the presidential press service quoted him as saying on March 1.

Kazakh authorities had earlier said that a road-rage brawl involving police officers and three Kazakh citizens from the ethnic Dungan minority -- a Muslim group of Chinese origin -- was thought to have triggered the clashes.

The deadly violence spread into the villages of Sortobe, Masanchi, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr.

Meeting with residents who survived the violence, Toqaev on March 1 called on law enforcement to punish perpetrators "regardless of their ethnicity."

"Without this, we will not be able to restore order in the country," he said.

More than 30 houses, 17 commercial buildings, and 47 vehicles were destroyed or damaged during the violence.

More than 23,000 people, mostly Dungans, fled villages where the violence erupted.

Many of them ended up in the Chui region of neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakh officials said the majority of the displaced Dungans returned to Kazakhstan several days later.

Many senior regional officials, including the local police chief, were sacked by Kazakhstan's government in the aftermath of the clashes.

Dungans, also known as Hui, are Sunni Muslims who speak a dialect of Mandarin that also uses words and phrases borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and Turkic.

Their ancestors fled from China to Central Asia, which then was part of the Russian empire, in the late-19th century after the Chinese government’s violent crackdown of the Dungan Revolt of 1862-1877.

The total number of Dungans now living in former Soviet republics is about 120,000.

Most reside in Kyrgyzstan's northern region of Chui and Kazakhstan's neighboring region of Zhambyl.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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