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Kazakhstan says 164 people killed in week of unrest

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A total of 164 people were killed during the past week of protests in Kazakhstan, according to Health Ministry figures cited by state-run media.

More than 2,200 people were said to have been injured in the violence, which saw Kazakh security forces respond with a heavy hand to anti-government protesters.

According to the ministry, 719 people were being treated in hospitals on Sunday, 83 of them in critical condition.

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The authorities did not comment on the nature of the injuries.

It is difficult to independently verify information in the tightly controlled Central Asian country.

Demonstrations, prompted by soaring fuel prices, began a week ago in western Kazakhstan, a country bigger than Western Europe, before turning into a broader revolt against the authoritarian government.

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In Almaty, the country’s largest city, the protests devolved into riots and clashes that left buildings torched and businesses looted.

According to the report by state television, 103 people – including two children – died in Almaty alone.

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Some 1,100 people there sought medical help, it said.

It was initially unclear how many of the victims were civilians.

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Previously, the authorities had spoken of more than 40 dead, among them at least 16 police officers and soldiers.

Following a crisis meeting on Sunday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said that operations to contain the protests were continuing and described the situation as being under control.

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“Measures are being taken to locate and arrest terrorists,’’ it said.

So far, almost 6,000 people have been arrested, including many foreigners, the presidential office said.

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Tokayev has repeatedly said the protesters, who are threatening the survival of his government, are being supported from abroad but has offered little evidence to support the claim.

Interior Minister, Erlan Turgumbayev, said more than 100 shopping centres, bank buildings and about 400 vehicles – mostly police cars – were destroyed, in comments to broadcaster Khabar 24.

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In Almaty, the unprecedented unrest has left behind severe destruction, a resident told dpa on the phone on Sunday.

“Today the situation in the city is relatively calm,’’ the journalist, who lives near the city centre, said, adding that he could still hear shots being fired the previous evening.

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Many grocery shops had been looted, he said adding that banks’ ATMs were destroyed.

Long queues had formed in front of reopened bakeries.

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The internet in Almaty was still down, the 50-year-old said.

Mobile phone connections have also been unreliable.

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Some 2,000 protesters passed by his house on Friday, the journalist reported.

Some of them were carrying sticks, but did not seem violent, he added.

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Amid a heavy-handed response to the protesters, authorities, meanwhile, were trying to restore a sense of normality.

The Ministry of Trade said supplies of basic foodstuffs had been secured in remote regions, Russian news agency, TASS reported.

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The Energy Ministry said fuel was starting to be supplied.

Sixteen members of security forces have been killed in the unrest, with some 1,300 police officers, soldiers and other members of the security agencies injured in clashes, according to Interior Ministry figures released before the Health Ministry data.

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Tokayev on Friday issued a shoot-to-kill order against protesters threatening his government’s survival.

Since the protests erupted, Tokayev has dismissed the government and top leaders from the country’s Security Council, declared a state of emergency and asked a Russian-led military alliance for help.

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The Collective Security Treaty Organisation, CSTO, an alliance of former Soviet states, has sent 2,500 paratroopers to Kazakhstan as part of a peacekeeping force.

Its member states are now planning to hold a video conference on Monday to discuss further steps, Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency Interfax on Sunday.

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Besides Russia and Kazakhstan, the alliance also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that borders Russia and China, is rich in oil and gas.

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Despite its vast size, it has a population of only around 18 million.

dpa/NAN

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