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Regional Prosecutor, Security Chief In Kazakh South Replaced After Deadly Ethnic Clashes

Burnt-down buildings after ethnic clashes in the Masanchi village in the southern Kazakh Zhambyl Province.
Burnt-down buildings after ethnic clashes in the Masanchi village in the southern Kazakh Zhambyl Province.

A regional prosecutor and a security chief in southern Kazakhstan have been removed from their posts days after deadly ethnic clashes in the region.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office said on February 12 that the prosecutor of the Zhambyl region, Zharqyn Qusainov, was relieved from his duties and replaced by Nurghalym Abdirov.

Also on February 12, Kazakhstan's Committee for National Security announced that chief of the committee's regional department, Shapai Samaqov, was replaced by Marat Imrenov.

The announcements came two days after Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev sacked the governor of the Zhambyl region Asqar Myrzakhmetov and appointed Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev in his place.

On February 7-8, 10 people were killed in the violence that erupted between local Kazakhs and ethnic Dungans, a Muslim group of Chinese origin, in the villages of Masanchi, Sortobe, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr.

Dozens were also wounded, including 19 police officers, while more than 30 houses, 17 commercial buildings, and 47 vehicles were destroyed or damaged in the clashes.

The police chief of the Zhambyl region, the deputy governor for social issues, and the governor of the region's Qordai district were also sacked earlier this week.

Kazakh officials said the violence was sparked by a conflict on a highway during which the occupants of two vehicles started a brawl following a road-rage incident. The deadly clashes followed the posting on the Internet of video footage taken from the brawl.

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.

Saparbaev said on February 11 that some 8,000 Kazakh citizens who fled the area to Kyrgyzstan had returned to Kazakhstan following a call from the Kazakh government.

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It is not clear how many Dungans from Kazakhstan remain in Kyrgyzstan.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said on February 12 that it had identified three individuals suspected in inciting the ethnic clashes on social networks. It is not clear if the suspects, whose identities were not disclosed, have been detained.

The office also said that more than 25 preliminary investigations into murders, assaulting police, organizing mass disorders, and hooliganism were launched.

The Zhambyl region's authorities said on February 12 that the state of emergency has not been lifted in the area where the clashes took place.

The Kazakh government has been positioning the country as an example of inter-ethnic 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 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 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, KazTAG, and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
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