Kazakhstan 'Stabilized' After Nearly 8000 Arrested, 164 Killed in Protests: Officials

Thousands of people were arrested and over 150 people were killed during violent protests last week over the sudden increase in gas prices, Kazakhstan officials said Monday.

The National Security Committee said Monday the situation has now been "stabilized and is under control" after violent protests damaged parts of the country.

The protests began on January 2 after the government lifted its price cap on fuel. The cost of liquefied petroleum gas, which most people in Central Asia use for their vehicles, nearly doubled in price immediately, NPR reported.

Demonstrations broke out across the country as people were dissatisfied with the government in general but were outraged over the fuel prices skyrocketing.

However, the protests took a violent turn and lasted several days. Protestors seized an airport briefly and set government buildings on fire. People reported hearing random gunfire in the streets for multiple days.

Nearly 8,000 people were arrested throughout the country and 164 people, including three children, were killed during the demonstrations.

The peaceful protests in the country "were hijacked by terrorists, extremists and criminal groups," said Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry in a statement.

The government declared Monday as a day of mourning for those who died during the worst unrest the country has seen since they gained independence from the Soviet Union 30 years ago.

Protests in Kazakhstan Gas Prices
A photo shows a destroyed bank in central Almaty on January 8, 2022, after violence that erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices. Kazakhstan's president has rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of unprecedented unrest, vowing to destroy "armed bandits" and authorizing his forces to shoot to kill without warning. In a new effort to pacify the protesters, the government sets fuel price limits for six months. Alexandr Bogdanov/ AFP/Getty Images

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Monday described the events of last week as a "terrorist aggression" against the country and dismissed reports of the authorities fighting peaceful demonstrators as "disinformation."

Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry reported that a total of 7,939 people have been detained across the country.

In a concession, the government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases. As the unrest mounted, the ministerial cabinet resigned and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev, former longtime leader of Kazakhstan, as head of the National Security Council.

One of the main slogans of the past week's protests, "Old man out," was a reference to Nazarbayev, who served as president from Kazakhstan's independence until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Tokayev as his successor. Nazarbayev had retained substantial power at the helm of the National Security Council.

The authorities declared a state of emergency over the unrest, and Tokayev requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. The group has authorized sending about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.

Tokayev has said the demonstrations were instigated by "terrorists" with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no obvious leaders or organization. On Friday, he said he ordered police and the military to shoot to kill "terrorists" involved in the violence.

"According to preliminary data, the attackers include individuals who have military combat zone experience in the ranks of radical Islamist groups. Currently, the law enforcement agencies and armed forces of Kazakhstan are confronting terrorists, not 'peaceful protesters' as some foreign media misrepresent it," the statement said.

Speaking at an extraordinary virtual summit of CSTO on Monday, Tokayev promised to reveal to the world "additional evidence" of a "terrorist aggression" against Kazakhstan. He stressed that the demands of peaceful protesters have been "heard and met by the state," and the unrest that followed involved "groups of armed militants" whose goal was to overthrow the government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed his sentiment and called the unrest "an attack on the country" and "an act of aggression" masterminded from abroad.

"We understand that the events in Kazakhstan are not the first and not the last attempt at interfering in the internal affairs of our states from the outside," Putin said at the summit.

The Kazakh president added that "constitutional order" in the country has been restored, and the "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" in the country will soon wrap up, along with the CSTO mission.

The National Security Committee said Monday that "hotspots of terrorist threats" in the country have been "neutralized." The committee also told Russia's Interfax news agency that the authorities released well-known Kyrgyz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, whose arrest over his alleged participation in the unrest sparked outrage in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Ruzakhunov was shown in a video on Kazakh television saying that he had flown to the country to take part in protests and was promised $200. In the video, apparently taken in police custody, Ruzakhunov's face was bruised and he had a large cut on his forehead.

Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry has demanded Ruzakhunov's release, and the country's authorities on Monday sought to open a probe on charges of torture.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kazakhstan, protests, energy, prices, Almaty
An image from an AFPTV video made on January 5 shows protesters storming in the city hall of Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty as unprecedented unrest in the Central Asian nation spins out of control due to a hike in energy prices. Protestors took from police officers gear and tear gas during a demonstration in the streets of Almaty that caused the death of twelve security officers and wounded 353 people, media reports said on January 6. ALEXANDER PLATONOV/AFPTV/Getty Images