Kazakh police have opened two investigations after a schoolyard fight between students degenerated into a riot in an ethnically mixed village near the border with China.
Police said a fight broke out on October 27 between high school students in a school in the village of Penzhim, some 25 kilometers from the Chinese border. A 16-year-old teenager was taken to the hospital, police said, while other unverified reports said several people were injured.
The Panfilov district, where Penzhim is located, has a mixed population of some 130,000 people, a majority of them Kazakhs, but also a 30 percent-strong ethnic Uyghur minority.
Numerous videos distributed on WhatsApp and apparently filmed in Penzhim show that during the fight one of the students falls and does not get up.
Doctors and officials have given contradictory accounts about the teenager's health. Doctors said the student, who apparently is Kazakh, suffered a head injury and is in serious condition. But the head of the Panfilov district local administration, Talgat Umiraliyev, told RFE/RL that the student is stable.
"I visited him today. We saw the chief medical officer. His limbs are healthy, his speech is correct, and he underwent surgery at night. He has a head injury. The hematoma was removed. When talking to the child himself, he said, 'Everything is fine. Everything is fine,'" Umiraliyev said on October 28.
Authorities said the situation in the village is under control and that two criminal investigations have been opened into the schoolyard fight and the subsequent riots in the village.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the schoolyard brawl, but police said that they had been told that some 30 adults had gathered later that day near the house of one of the schoolchildren involved in the fight.
Police have been questioning suspected participants, including adults.
“A group of people broke the windows of several houses and cars,” police reported, without offering details about the extent of the damage or any arrests.
Authorities also denied social-media reports that houses were set on fire during the riot, saying they had received a report about an accidental fire in a private home in the village
"According to the owner of the house, the cause of the fire was a malfunction of the stove. At 23:30, the fire was extinguished. No one was hurt. This fire is not related to the incident," the Regional Police Department said, warning that those who spread false information will be punished.
Following the incidents, local authorities on October 28 summoned residents to the local House of Culture in an effort to calm the situation and gave reassurances that "there was no interethnic conflict in Penzhim."
During this discussion, which was covered live by RFE/RL, some people said that it was not "the first incident” of this kind in Penzhim.