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Kazakhstan detains almost 10,000 over 'foreign-backed' deadly unrest

A photograph taken on January 10, 2022 shows a general view of a burnt-out Almaty City Administration building in central Almaty, Kazakhstan, following violent protests over fuel price hike. (Photo by AFP)

Security forces in Kazakhstan have detained nearly 10,000 people in connection with last week's deadly unrest, the country’s interior ministry said on Tuesday.

Dozens of people have died and public buildings have been vandalized over the past week in the worst violence the Central Asian nation has experienced since its independence in the early 1990s.

The mass protests began in the oil-rich country’s western province of Mangistau on January 2, after the government decided to lift price control on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — a move that roughly doubled gas prices in a matter of days.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has said militants from other central Asian nations and Afghanistan, as well as the Middle East, were among the attackers. He called the unrest a coup attempt.

Authorities in Kazakhstan have accused foreign elements of stoking the unrest, which they allege aims to "undermine the security and integrity of the state by force, using trained and organized armed formations".

The unrest prompted Tokayev to appeal for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — a military alliance made up of Russia and five other former Soviet states — to restore peace and security in the country.

Tokayev on Monday said his country had faced an attempted coup d'etat coordinated by what he described as "a single centre".

"Armed militants who were waiting in the wings joined the protests. The main goal was obvious: the undermining of the constitutional order, the destruction of government institutions and the seizure of power. It was an attempted coup d'etat," he stressed.

He said the order had largely been restored, but the hunt for "terrorists" was still underway.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his remarks on Monday, also noted that protests in Kazakhstan were fueled by virulent internal and external forces, insisting that the Russia-led military alliance would not permit them to destabilize the country.

To contain the situation, Tokayev had on Wednesday declared a two-week emergency  that included a curfew, movement restrictions, and a ban on mass gatherings in the cities of Almaty and Mangistau. 

As rioters torched and ransacked public buildings in several cities, Tokayev on Friday issued orders to put an end to the unrest, which he blamed on 20,000 “armed bandits."

Amid the unrest, he also sacked the cabinet and a number of senior security officials.

On Saturday, authorities said Karim Masimov, the former head of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), had also been detained on suspicion of high treason.

The president on Tuesday nominated Alikhan Smailov as prime minister in an address to the parliament.

The 49-year-old Smailov served as the first deputy prime minister in the previous cabinet.

The lower house of parliament swiftly voted him in during a session broadcast live on state television.

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