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Kazakh President Replaces Regional Governor Following Deadly Ethnic Clashes

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Locals inspect damage in the Kazakh village of Masanchi after ethnic clahsed erupted there at the weekend.

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has sacked the governor of the southern Zhambyl region following deadly ethnic clashes in the area over the weekend.

Toqaev's press service said on February 10 that the president issued decrees to relieve Asqar Myrzakhmetov from his duties and was appointing Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev in his place.

The announcement comes after 10 people were killed in the violence that erupted between local Kazakhs and ethnic Dungans, a Muslim group of Chinese origin, in the region's villages of Masanchi, Sortobe, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr last week.

Dozens were also injured, including two police officers, while more than 30 houses, 15 commercial buildings, and 23 vehicles were destroyed or damaged in the battles.

Earlier, on February 10, Toqaev ordered Myrzakhmetov to sack the Zhambyl region's deputy governor for social issues, Slushash Qurmanbekova, and the governor of the Qordai district, Bolatbek Baitole, where the deadly clashes took place.

Toqaev also ordered Interior Minister Erlan Turghymbaev to sack regional police chief Arman Orazaliev and the Qordai district police chief Azamat Aiqymbekov.

Kazakh Deputy Interior Minister Aleksei Kalaichidi said on February 9 that the violence was sparked by a conflict on a highway after men in two cars brawled following a traffic disagreement.

Kalaichidi added that the brawl was recorded and placed on social media networks which led to the wider clashes in which firearms were used. Kalaichidi also said that police detained a man suspected of placing the video on the Internet and adding "misleading" statements that sparked the ethnic conflict.

Thousands of people fled villages where the violence erupted, ending up in the neighboring Kyrgyz Chui region, where the majority of ethnic Dungans in Central Asia traditionally reside.

Hundreds Flee To Kyrgyzstan After Deadly Ethnic Clashes In Rural Kazakhstan
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On February 8, groups of mainly ethnic Dungans could be seen lining up along the Kyrgyz side of the border, while on the other side of the border, Dungan people handed out food and offered medical assistance to those arriving.

Kyrgyz officials told RFE/RL that some 4,500 Kazakh citizens, mainly Dungans, entered the country in the wake of the clashes last week.

Kazakh officials said on February 9 that over 1,000 of them had returned to Kazakhstan following a call from the Kazakh government.

Deputy Finance Minister Alikhan Smailov said on February 10 that the government will provide the families of those killed in the clashes with financial support and fully restore destroyed and damaged houses.

Police have launched probes into the murders and the organization of the groups who clashed. A specially created government commission led by Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev is working in the Qordai district on the case.

The Kazakh government has been positioning the country as an example of interethnic civility for years, though local ethnic conflicts have been reported in the country since it gained independence following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

However, it is the first ethnic clash of such scale in Kazakhstan that involves ethnic Dungans.

Dungans, also known as Hui, are Sunni Muslims who speak a dialect of Mandarin with many words and phrases borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and Turkic. Their ancestors came to Central Asia, which was then part of the Russian empire, in the late-19th century after the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on the Dungan Revolt of 1862–1877.

The number of Dungans living in the former Soviet Union is about 120,000, most of whom reside in Kyrgyzstan's northern region of Chui and the neighboring Kazakh region of Zhambyl.

With reporting by Tengrinews, RFE/RL's Kazakh and Kyrgyz services
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