Kazakhstan says situation stabilised, president firmly in charge after unrest


Almaty (Reuters) – Kazakhstan authorities said on Sunday they had stabilised the situation across the country after the deadliest outbreak of violence in 30 years of independence, and troops from a Russian-led military alliance were guarding “strategic facilities”.

Security and intelligence officials briefed President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev that they were continuing “clean-up” actions in what he has called a huge counter-terrorism operation across the oil-producing former Soviet republic that borders Russia and China.

Dozens of people have been killed, thousands detained and public buildings torched over the past week, prompting Tokayev to issue shoot-to-kill orders to end unrest he has blamed on bandits and terrorists.

At Tokayev’s invitation, the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sent troops to restore order, an intervention that comes at a time of high tension in Russia-U.S. relations ahead of talks this week on the Ukraine crisis.

“A number of strategic facilities have been transferred under the protection of the united peacekeeping contingent of the CSTO member states,” the presidential office said in a statement detailing the security briefing chaired by Tokayev.

It did not identify the facilities. Last week, Russia’s space agency said security had been strengthened around Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, used by Russia for space launches. The protests disrupted production at the Chevron-operated Tengiz oil field.

“The situation has been stabilized in all regions of the country,” it said, adding law enforcement agencies had seized back control of administrative buildings and vital services were being restored.

What began a week ago with demonstrations against a fuel price rise exploded into a wider protest against Tokayev’s government and the man he replaced as president of the resource-rich former Soviet republic, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The violence has 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 of Western investment in its oil and minerals industries.

It has opened a rift in the ruling elite, with Tokayev fighting to consolidate his authority after sacking key officials and removing Nazarbayev from a powerful role as head of the Security Council.

The former intelligence chief and two-time prime minister Karim Massimov, seen as close to Nazarbayev, has been arrested on suspicion of treason but authorities have not disclosed any details of the allegations against him.

State television took the unusual step at the top of its hourly news bulletin of underlining that Tokayev was “the highest official of the state, the chairman of the Security Council. In this capacity he takes decisions independently.”

The administration said 5,800 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest.

State television said two soldiers were among those killed, and 163 had been wounded. As security operations continued, it said about 400 people had been arrested in the city of Shymkent near the border with Uzbekistan.

Cash Machines Gutted

In Almaty, the biggest city where much of the violence was concentrated, normal life appeared to be returning on Sunday although with fewer cars than usual.

Security forces have set up checkpoints around the perimeter of the city. In the centre, smashed windows, gutted cash machines and torched buildings bore witness to the destruction.

The main Republic Square where the charred mayor’s office is located remained sealed off to the public. One road leading to it was cordoned off by police; another was blocked by a burnt-out bus.

A Reuters correspondent saw two military vehicles with mounted machine guns driving towards the square. Most of the dozens of civilian and police cars torched during the unrest had been removed by Sunday.

The internet remained heavily restricted, with access only available to the presidential website and a handful of other local news websites.

A spokesman for Magnum, the biggest supermarket chain, said of the 68 stores in Almaty, 15 had been completely looted.

Staff at a shopping mall told Reuters that video cameras showed looters attacking an ATM, changing into stolen clothes and shoes at the stores and walking out wearing two or three coats.

Yerkin Zhumabekov, a manager at the mall, said: “They arrived in cars with no number plates at night, they destroyed everything. They took everything they could, shoes, clothes, cosmetics.”

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