Officials in Kazakhstan said Sunday that 164 people have been killed in protests that engulfed much of the country over the past week. The health ministry said 103 of the deaths took place in Almaty, the country’s largest city. And at least three of those killed were minors, including a four-year-old girl. The figure was reported on the state news channel but it was called into question later when the Health Ministry deleted the social media post that detailed the death toll. The Information Ministry told a local news site that the message had been posted by mistake.
An ongoing Internet blackout in the country means it’s difficult for reporters to verify information but if the death toll is confirmed, it would mark a sharp rise from previous estimates that had claimed fewer than 50 people had been killed in the protest that began Jan. 2 sparked by a fuel price hike that later devolved into a political crisis and the worst violence in Kazakhstan’s 30-year history. The office of Kazakhstan’s president said that around 5,800 people had been detained by police during the violent protests that led to the involvement of a Russia-led alliance sending troops into the country to restore order.
Authorities are also claiming that all government buildings and institutions are now back under state control and the country had “stabilized.” More than 2,000 people were reportedly injured in the protest that began peacefully but quickly turned violent. The country’s Foreign Ministry said the peaceful demonstrations “were hijacked by perpetrators and both local and external terrorist groups speaking foreign languages.” The government has not offered up any evidence to support the allegations but the deputy defense minister, Sultan Gamaletdinov, said on Sunday that a “counterterrorist operation” was underway and would continue “until the terrorists are completely eliminated and the constitutional order is restored in the Republic of Kazakhstan.” The country’s president fired two more top security officials Sunday who were deputies to former intelligence chief Karim Massimov, who was arrested on suspicion of treason.