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Kazakhstan says situation stabilised, president firmly in charge after unrest

Security and
intelligence officials briefed President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev that they were
continuing “clean-up” actions in what he has called a huge
counter-terrorism operation across the oil-producing former Soviet republic
that borders Russia and China.

Dozens of
people have been killed, thousands detained and public buildings torched over
the past week, prompting Tokayev to issue shoot-to-kill orders to end unrest he
has blamed on bandits and terrorists.

At Tokayev’s
invitation, the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sent
troops to restore order, an intervention that comes at a time of high tension
in Russia-US relations ahead of talks this week on the Ukraine crisis.

“A
number of strategic facilities have been transferred under the protection of
the united peacekeeping contingent of the CSTO member states,” the
presidential office said in a statement detailing the security briefing chaired
by Tokayev.

It did not
identify the facilities. Last week, Russia’s space agency said security had
been strengthened around Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, used by Russia for
space launches. The protests disrupted production at the Chevron-operated
Tengiz oil field.

“The
situation has been stabilised in all regions of the country,” it said,
adding law enforcement agencies had seized back control of administrative
buildings and vital services were being restored.

What began a
week ago with demonstrations against a fuel price rise exploded into a wider
protest against Tokayev’s government and the man he replaced as president of
the resource-rich former Soviet republic, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The violence
has dealt a blow to Kazakhstan’s image as a tightly controlled and stable
country, which it has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars of Western
investment in its oil and minerals industries.

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It has
opened a rift in the ruling elite, with Tokayev fighting to consolidate his
authority after sacking key officials and removing Nazarbayev from a powerful
role as head of the Security Council.

The former
intelligence chief and two-time prime minister Karim Massimov, seen as close to
Nazarbayev, has been arrested on suspicion of treason but authorities have not
disclosed any details of the allegations against him.

State
television took the unusual step at the top of its hourly news bulletin of
underlining that Tokayev was “the highest official of the state, the
chairman of the Security Council. In this capacity he takes decisions
independently.”

The
administration said 5,800 people had been arrested in connection with the
unrest.

State
television said two soldiers were among those killed, and 163 had been wounded.
As security operations continued, it said about 400 people had been arrested in
the city of Shymkent near the border with Uzbekistan.

CASH
MACHINES GUTTED

In Almaty,
the biggest city where much of the violence was concentrated, normal life
appeared to be returning on Sunday although with fewer cars than usual.

Security
forces have set up checkpoints around the perimeter of the city. In the centre,
smashed windows, gutted cash machines and torched buildings bore witness to the
destruction.

The main
Republic Square where the charred mayor’s office is located remained sealed off
to the public. One road leading to it was cordoned off by police; another was
blocked by a burnt-out bus.

A Reuters
correspondent saw two military vehicles with mounted machine guns driving
towards the square. Most of the dozens of civilian and police cars torched
during the unrest had been removed by Sunday.

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The internet
remained heavily restricted, with access only available to the presidential
website and a handful of other local news websites.

A spokesman
for Magnum, the biggest supermarket chain, said of the 68 stores in Almaty, 15
had been completely looted.

Staff at a
shopping mall told Reuters that video cameras showed looters attacking an ATM,
changing into stolen clothes and shoes at the stores and walking out wearing
two or three coats.

Yerkin
Zhumabekov, a manager at the mall, said: “They arrived in cars with no
number plates at night, they destroyed everything. They took everything they
could, shoes, clothes, cosmetics.”

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