Kazakh authorities reveal police death toll, as UN calls to ‘refrain from violence’
At least 18 police officers and military servicemen have been killed in clashes in Kazakhstan, amid what the authorities are calling a “counter-terrorist” operation. No details on civilian casualties have officially been revealed.
The updated figure was published by Kazakstan’s interior ministry late on Thursday. Nearly 750 law enforcement have received various injuries in the ongoing unrest, it claimed.
Only figures related to police and military casualties were made public, with no official information on killed or injured protesters, rioters, or what the Kazakh authorities are calling “terrorist gangs” available.
However, security officials had earlier described “dozens of attackers” having been eliminated in two separate attacks on the police HQ in the city of Almaty. Known as “the southern capital” in Kazakhstan, the country’s largest metropolis has become a hotspot of protests, which then escalated into rioting, arson and looting of administrative buildings, businesses and shopping centers.
A UN official on Thursday alleged that a large number have been wounded during the unrest. “Almost 1,000 people have reportedly been injured in the protests” the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement on Thursday, which urged all the parties in Kazakhstan to “refrain from violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of grievances.” The OHCHR did not elaborate on their sources for the number cited.
Almaty authorities responded with a massive police operation on Thursday, and heavy gunfire was heard in the central Republic Square, where hundreds of protesters had previously gathered and where groups of rioters on Wednesday broke into the city administration building, setting it on fire. Law enforcement said they managed to secure the area, with the operation ongoing in other parts of Almaty.
The interior ministry said late on Thursday it continues to search for rioters, detaining lawbreakers across the country. Those who put up “armed resistance” to the police and the military, will be “eliminated,” it warned.
Kazakhstan has seen a wave of unrest, which began as mass protests triggered by a twofold hike in liquefied petroleum gas prices at the start of the new year. The protests, which began in the country’s south-west, promptly spilled over into other regions, growing increasingly political and violent.
The country’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev branded the unrest a “terrorist attack” against the country on Wednesday, blaming the violence on organized, foreign-trained groups allegedly acting among the protesters. Tokayev has also reached out to the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for help, with the first peacekeepers already sent into the country. The CSTO is a security treaty between six former Soviet states, incorporating Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.