Nearly 8,000 Arrested, Dozens Dead In Kazakhstan As Officials Blame Terrorists For Violent Unrest

By Robert Hart, Forbes Staff

Topline

Nearly 8,000 people were arrested and dozens died throughout Kazakhstan last week, government officials announced Monday, following a security crackdown amid anti-government protests and waves of violent unrest authorities have linked to terrorism.  

Protests in Kazakhstan initially began over rising fuel prices last week. AFP via Getty Images

Key Facts

Some 7,939 people were detained by police after violent protests last week, Kazakhstan's interior ministry said Monday, according to multiple news reports

Government officials told local media at least 44 people died during the unrest, according to the BBC, after an earlier statement that said more than 164 people had died was retracted. 

As of Monday, Kazakhstan’s counterintelligence and anti-terrorism agency said the situation has “stabilized and is under control,” according to AP News, and internet access has reportedly been restored to Almaty, the country’s largest city, after a nationwide blackout began Wednesday.

Officials—who authorized law enforcement to open fire on protestors “without warning”—criticized international media coverage of the unrest and said foreign-trained terrorist groups were responsible for fomenting violence. 

The government, which did not provide evidence of its claims or name suspects or terrorist groups it believes to be responsible, said forces had been engaging “violent mobs” and foreign reports gave "the false impression that the Kazakhstan government has been targeting peaceful protestors.”

Key Background

Unrest is unusual in Kazakhstan, where the government exerts tight control, and last week’s unrest marked its worst since it declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Monday has been designated a national day of mourning in recognition of this. While initially starting as regional protests against the government’s decision to remove price caps on a widely used fuel, they spread and morphed into a wider call for political change. The protests—which prompted President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to declare a state of emergency, implement a nationwide curfew and request help from a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet states—reportedly come amid political jockeying for power among Kazakhstan’s ruling elite. During the unrest, the government resigned (the former head of the National Security Committee was also detained for treason) and Tokayev replaced former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who still wields substantial power, as head of the National Security Council.

What To Watch For

International responses. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Tokayev’s shoot-to-kill order and questioned the country’s decision to seek Russian help to deal with the situation. The comments escalated tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which described the remarks as “offensive.”

Big Number

$3 billion. That’s how much four Kazakh billionaires, including a daughter and son-in-law of the former president, lost since January 4 as shares of some of the country’s most well-known businesses tumbled amid the unrest, according to a Forbes estimate on Friday. 

Further Reading

Kazakhstan’s Tycoons–Including Members Of Nazarbayev Family–Shed Billions As Stocks Plunge (Forbes)

Kazakhstan Reportedly Hit By Internet Blackout As Oil-Rich Nation Breaks Out In Rare Anti-Government Protests (Forbes)

Russia reacts furiously to Blinken jibe over troops in Kazakhstan (Reuters)


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