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Sixteen Kazakh Military Officers, Defense Officials Go On Trial Over Deadly Ammo Blasts

The Shymkent military court
The Shymkent military court

SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan -- Sixteen Kazakh military officers and Defense Ministry officials have gone on trial over a series of explosions at an ammunition warehouse that killed four people in June 2019.

A military court in the southern city of Shymkent started the trial on June 11, almost a year after the fire in the town of Arys, 67 kilometers west of Shymkent, which sparked the blasts that lasted for four days, killing three and injuring dozens of residents.

The fourth victim, an 8-year-old boy, died weeks later in hospital.

Among the 16 defendants are military officers from Arys and some senior Defense Ministry officials. Six of the defendants are taking part in the trial via a video link from Nur-Sultan, the capital.

The charges against the defendants include negligence and violating safety regulations for storing arms and ammunition.

Some 35,000 residents of the town fled their homes for Shymkent and nearby towns, returning days later after the authorities lifted a state of emergency.

Kazakh officials said that 85 percent of the town's buildings, mainly private houses, had been damaged by heavy smoke, shock waves, and flying debris from the blasts.

The government has promised to rebuild the houses, but many residents, some of whom attended the trial on June 11, complained that the rebuilding efforts had been too slow.

After the blasts, hundreds of people rallied in Shymkent and blocked a major road demanding to be relocated permanently because they were afraid to go back as the June blasts were just the latest in a series of explosions to hit the depot since 2009.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who won a controversial election less than three weeks before the blasts, has vowed to punish those responsible.

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