The crackdown is in full swing in Kazakhstan, where the authorities announced on Sunday that they had arrested nearly 6,000 people in connection with the deadly riots that rocked the largest country in Central Asia this week.
In total, 5,800 people, “including a significant number of foreign nationals”, were arrested in the framework of 125 separate investigations, the presidency of Kazakhstan indicated in a statement, without giving more details.
“The situation is stabilized in all regions of the country”, even if the security forces are still carrying out “cleaning” operations, added the same source, after a crisis meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Kazakhstan, a country of about 19 million people rich in hydrocarbons, was rocked this week by riots unprecedented since its independence in 1989, which killed dozens of people.
The protest began in the provinces last Sunday after the increase in gas prices, before reaching large cities, including the economic capital Almaty, where riots broke out, the police firing live ammunition at the demonstrators.
According to the Kazakh Interior Ministry quoted by local media on Sunday, the material damage caused by the violence was initially estimated at around 175 million euros.
More than 100 businesses and banks were looted and more than 400 vehicles destroyed, according to the same source.
Kazakhstan announced on Saturday the arrest of the former director of intelligence services, Karim Massimov, the first major figure arrested, on suspicion of “high treason”.
Refusing any dialogue with the demonstrators, President Tokayev had authorized his forces on Friday to “shoot to kill”.
Relative calm seemed to have returned to Almaty in recent days, with police sometimes firing shots in the air to prevent residents from approaching the city’s central square, an AFP correspondent noted on Saturday.
A sign of a timid return to normalcy, around 30 supermarkets reopened in Almaty on Sunday, media reported, amid concerns over shortages.
Long queues of vehicles have been formed in recent days in front of gas stations, noted an AFP journalist.
But Almaty still bore the scars of those days of violence, with building facades blackened by flames and scorched car wrecks littering the streets.
Almaty airport, which was to reopen on Monday, will ultimately remain closed “until the situation stabilizes,” authorities said on Sunday.
In addition to the rising cost of living, the figure of ex-President Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan with an iron fist from 1989 to 2019, was at the center of the protesters’ anger.
His spokesperson, Aïdos Oukibaï, once again denied Sunday that Mr. Nazarbayev left the country, assuring that he supported Mr. Tokayev.
Against the backdrop of rumors of a power struggle, he also said that Mr. Nazarbayev had handed over the leadership of the National Security Council on his own initiative to Mr. Tokayev, who had abruptly announced this week that he was taking the reins.
The authorities said that 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and more than a thousand demonstrators wounded, the police reporting, according to a new report Sunday, of 16 killed and more than 1,300 wounded in their ranks.
These figures could not be independently verified.
The crisis in Kazakhstan has also given rise to tensions between Russia and the United States, in a context of growing tensions between these two powers.
Moscow has deployed troops to the Central Asian country as part of a multinational collective security treaty organization (CSTO) contingent, at Tokayev’s call.
The United States said it would be “very difficult” for Kazakhstan to get the Russian military to leave, a criticism Moscow called “crass on Saturday”.
While American and Russian representatives are due to meet from Sunday evening in Geneva to talk about Ukraine and Europe, Moscow has ruled out any discussion with Washington on Kazakhstan.
“This question does not concern them at all”, swept the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov on Sunday.