Kazakh president steps up purge of security agency after mass unrest

  • Kazakh leader Tokayev sacks top security officials
  • The president is likely to name new cabinet members on Tuesday
  • Veteran ex-leader’s spokesman denies power struggle
  • The internet is restricted, no statement from the protesters

ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s president fired two top security officials on Sunday after the worst unrest in three decades of post-Soviet independence, and authorities said the situation was stabilizing with Russian-led forces guarding key facilities.

The expelled officials are deputy intelligence chief Karim Masimov, who was arrested on suspicion of treason after violent protests swept through the oil and uranium-producing Central Asian republic that borders Russia and China.

Thousands of people were arrested and public buildings were set on fire during massive anti-government protests last week. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued shoot-to-kill orders to end the unrest, which he blamed on bandits and terrorists.

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Russian and state media reported that 164 people were killed during the clashes, citing a government post on social media. But the health authorities and the police did not confirm this number, and then the post on social media was deleted.

Internet and incomplete connections are restricted, making it difficult to check numbers and confirm data.

Not a single group appeared to speak on behalf of the protesters. Demonstrations against rising fuel prices began a week ago before erupting into a broader protest against Tokayev’s government and the man who replaced him as president, 81-year-old veteran Nursultan Nazarbayev.

At the invitation of Tokayev, a Russian-led coalition of ex-Soviet states – the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – sent troops to restore order, an intervention that comes at a time of high tension in Russia-US relations ahead of talks this week. on the Ukraine crisis. Read more

On Sunday, Tokayev’s spokesman said he believed the troops would not be in Kazakhstan for long, perhaps no more than a week or even less.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries will hold a video conference on Monday to discuss the crisis in Kazakhstan, the Kremlin said.

The violence has fueled speculation of a rift in the ruling elite as Tokayev is fighting to consolidate his power after the sacking of key officials and the removal of Nazarbayev from a powerful post as head of the Security Council.

The president’s website announced the dismissal of Marat Osipov and Dolit Ergozin from the post of deputy head of the National Security Committee. It did not give an explanation in a brief statement late on Sunday.

Their imprisoned former chief, Masimov, who twice served as prime minister, was seen as close to Nazarbayev. The authorities have not released any details about the allegations against him. He and his lawyer could not be reached for comment. Read more

Nazarbayev’s spokesman said in a statement aimed at suppressing talk of a rift, that Nazarbayev had been in the capital, Nursultan, throughout the crisis and had chosen himself to relinquish his position on the Security Council to Tokayev to help ease the crisis.

“(He) and the Head of State have always been ‘on the same side of the barricades’… in these difficult days they have demonstrated the homogeneous nature of state power for all of us,” the statement said. To get around Tokayev.

Former Prime Minister Akijan Kazyegildin told Reuters that Tokayev needed to dispel doubts about who was really responsible.

“I think a lot of people in social networks, critics, keep saying that he is a candidate for Nazarbayev, that Nazarbayev is behind his back and manipulating him,” he said.

“Now he has full formal executive authority, and the question is how he’s going to deploy it. He needs to take the lead.” Read more

Tokayev’s spokesman said he is likely to appoint new members of the government when he addresses parliament on Tuesday.

A Kazakh law enforcement officer stands near a burning truck while checking vehicles on a street after mass protests sparked by an increase in fuel prices in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheev

He awarded prizes for bravery to 16 police and army officers killed in the violence.

photo bounce

“The situation has stabilized in all regions of the country,” the presidential office said, adding that law enforcement agencies had regained control of administrative buildings.

Deputy Defense Minister Sultan Jamal Aldinov said, “The anti-terror operation … will continue until the terrorists are completely eliminated.”

The violence dealt a blow to Kazakhstan’s image as a tightly controlled and stable country, which it has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars in Western investment in its oil and mineral industries.

Police said 6,044 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest.

The commander of the Russian paratroopers, Andrei Serdyukov, said that the CSTO force had finished its deployment in Kazakhstan and would remain there until the situation completely stabilizes.

“A number of strategic facilities have been transferred under the protection of the unified peacekeeping unit of the CSTO member states,” the presidential office said.

Serdyukov said the troops are guarding important army and government sites and socially important sites in the city of Almaty and surrounding areas. He did not specify the facilities.

The deployments indicate the Kremlin’s strong support for the Kazakh authorities in an area that Moscow sees as vital to its security along its southern flank.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington was seeking answers from Kazakhstan about why it needed to call in Russian-led forces to resolve internal unrest. He also denounced the government’s order to shoot to kill. Read more

Rotisserie cash machines

In Almaty, the largest city where violence is concentrated, normal life seemed to be returning on Sunday.

Security forces set up checkpoints across the city. The devastation was witnessed by smashed windows, smashed sewage machines and burnt out buildings.

The main Republic Square remained closed.

Reuters saw two military vehicles carrying mounted machine guns towards the square. Most of the dozens of civilian and police cars that were torched during the unrest were removed.

Supermarket chain Magnum said that 15 of its 68 stores in Almaty were looted.

Mall employees told Reuters that video cameras showed thieves attacking an ATM, turning into stolen clothes in stores, and walking out in one or three coats.

“They arrived in cars without number plates at night, destroying everything. They took everything they could, shoes, clothes, cosmetics,” said Yerkin Zumabekov, manager of a shopping center.

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Additional reporting by Olsas Ozof, Tamara Fall, Maria Gordiva, Robin Paxton and Mark Trevelyan.

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