In Kazakhstan, nearly 8,000 people were detained amid unrest

MOSCOW (AP), -- Authorities in Kazakhstan announced Monday that almost 8,000 people were taken into police custody during violent protests last week. This was the worst unrest since the Soviet Union gained independence 30 years ago.

In Kazakhstan, nearly 8,000 people were detained amid unrest

Monday's remarks by President Kassym Jomart Tokayev referred to the last week's events as a terrorist aggression against the country. He also dismissed reports that authorities were fighting peaceful protestors as "disinformation."

According to the Kazakhstan Interior Ministry, 7,939 people were detained in Kazakhstan. Monday's statement by the National Security Committee, Kazakhstan’s anti-terrorism and counterintelligence agency, stated that the country is now stable and under control.

Authorities have declared Monday a day for mourning in honor of the dozens of victims of unrest that erupted during unprecedented violence. According to the country's Health Ministry, 164 people were killed during the unrest, including three children.

Demonstrations began Jan. 2 in protest of a nearly doubled price for a particular type of fuel. They quickly spread throughout the country, seemingly expressing wider discontent at the authoritarian government.

The government made concessions by imposing a price cap of 180 days on vehicle fuel, and a moratorium for utility rate increases. The unrest escalated and the ministerial cabinet resigned. President Kassym Jomart Tokayev was appointed to the National Security Council.

One of the most prominent slogans of the protests over the past week, "Old Man Out," was a reference Nazarbayev. He served as Kazakhstan's president from independence to 2019 when he resigned and anointed Tokayev his successor. Nazarbayev still held substantial power in the National Security Council.

Despite concessions, protests escalated for several days with violence, setting fire to government buildings and killing dozens. The largest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty was the scene of the protests. They briefly took control of the airport. The streets of the city were witness to intermittent gunfire for several days.

Tokayev asked for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (a Russia-led military alliance consisting of six ex-Soviet states), after the authorities declared a state emergency due to the unrest. This group authorized the sending of approximately 2,500 mostly Russian troops into Kazakhstan to serve as peacekeepers.

Tokayev claimed that the demonstrations were organized by terrorists with foreign backing. However, there have been no clear leaders or organizations. He said that he had ordered the military and police to shoot at "terrorists" who were involved in the violence on Friday.

On Monday morning, the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan stated that peaceful protests in Kazakhstan were "captured by terrorist, extremeist, and criminal groups."

According to preliminary data, attackers are individuals with military combat zone experience and who have been in the ranks or extremist Islamist groups. According to the statement, terrorists are currently being confronted by the law enforcement agencies and the armed forces of Kazakhstan, not peaceful protesters as some media misrepresent it."

Tokayev, speaking at a CSTO virtual summit on Monday, promised to show the world "additional proof" of a terrorist attack against Kazakhstan. Tokayev stressed that peaceful protesters' demands have been "heard by the state" and that unrest following were "groupeds of armed militants", whose goal it was to overthrow government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shared his sentiments and called the unrest "an assault on the country" as well as "an act of aggression" arranged from abroad.

Putin stated at the summit that he understood that the events in Kazakhstan were not the first or last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs in our countries from the outside.

Kazakh President added that constitutional order in the country had been restored and that the "large-scale antiterrorist operation in the country" will soon be completed, together with the CSTO mission.

Monday's National Security Committee statement stated that terrorist hotspots in the country had been "neutralized." Vikram Ruzakhunov was a well-known Kyrgyz musician whose arrest for alleged involvement in unrest has sparked anger in Kyrgyzstan.

Ruzakhunov was seen in a Kazakh television video saying that he had come to Kazakhstan to participate in protests. He was also promised $200. Ruzakhunov was seen in the video with a bruised face and large cuts on his forehead.

The Foreign Ministry of Kyrygzstan has demanded Ruzakhunov be released. On Monday, the authorities opened a probe into allegations of torture.

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