Nearly 6,000 Detained Amid Unrest in Kazakhstan
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — At least 5,800 people have been detained and more than 2,000 injured during several days of violence last week in Kazakhstan, government officials said on Sunday, after protests ignited by a fuel price hike set off a political crisis and prompted the president to seek help from a Russia-led security alliance to restore order.
The protests, which started last weekend in western Kazakhstan and spread thousands of miles east, also left the country’s most populous city, Almaty, in disarray.
On Sunday, government officials said that the chaos had been “gradually stabilizing,” and that thousands of people had been swept up in an “anti-terrorist” operation.
On Monday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, along with the leaders of other members of the Collective Treaty Security Organization, an alliance of several former Soviet states, will discuss the situation in Kazakhstan via video conference. To help quell the unrest, the alliance deployed about 2,500 troops to the country, including Russian paratroopers who are guarding “vital facilities and social infrastructure,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Dozens of protesters and some security officers had previously been reported killed, and on Sunday, the Kazakh Health Ministry said that at least 164 people had died in the violence, including 103 in Almaty. But that figure was called into question later when the message was deleted from an official Kazakh government channel on Telegram, a social messaging app. The Information Ministry told Orda.kz, a local news site, that the message had been posted after a technical error.
It is difficult to assess exactly what is happening inside Kazakhstan, which has been largely sealed off from the outside world. Its main airports are still closed or working at a limited capacity, and internet services and phone lines are mostly down.
The political crisis was set off after protests — initially peaceful — began last Sunday over a fuel price hike in an oil town in western Kazakhstan and quickly swept the whole country. Almaty turned into something like a war zone, with main government buildings burned and the airport stormed by a mob.
The suddenness with which the protests turned from peaceful to chaotic fueled talk that public discontent over rampant corruption in the oil-rich Central Asian nation could have been used by various factions inside the government to fight among each other.
On Sunday, Kazakhstan’s government echoed that theory. “Regretfully, peaceful demonstrations in Almaty and some other regions were hijacked by perpetrators and both local and external terrorist groups speaking foreign languages,” a statement by a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Erzhan Kazykhan, said.
Mr. Kazykhan did not offer evidence to support his assertions or detail who the government thought had organized the groups or what it thought their ultimate goal was. He added that the government had not been fighting against peaceful protesters, only against “violent mobs who were committing brazen acts of terror.”
On Saturday, the government said that it had arrested Karim Masimov, the former head of its main security agency, on Thursday, a day after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev dismissed him from his post at the height of the crisis.
The government said on Sunday that the unrest was abating, including in Almaty, with some public transportation back on schedule and some stores, many of which had been looted, reopening.