ALMATY — Kazakhstan authorities have detained the former head of the country’s national security committee on suspicion of treason, they said on Saturday as the former Soviet republic is roiled by its worst unrest in 30 years.
Karim Massimov, who was fired from the powerful intelligence body this week as protests raged across the nation, was detained along with several other officials, according to the committee, which did not name them or provide further details.
Reuters was unable to immediately contact Massimov, a two-time ex-prime minister who worked closely with former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s ruler for three decades until he turned over the presidency to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019.
Dozens of people have died and public buildings across Kazakhstan have been ransacked and torched over the past week in the worst violence experienced in the Central Asian nation, a major oil and uranium producer, since it became independent in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed.
The demonstrations began as a response to a fuel price hike but swelled into a broad movement against Tokayev’s Russian-backed government and 81-year-old Nazarbayev, whose family is widely believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
After several days of violence, security forces appeared to have reclaimed control of the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city Almaty on Friday. Tokayev said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a countrywide uprising.
he interior ministry said that more than 4,400 people had been detained since the start of the unrest.
A Russia-led military alliance has been deployed in Kazakhstan at Tokayev’s invitation at a time of high tension in East-West relations as Russia and the United States gear up for talks next week on the Ukraine crisis.
Moscow has deployed large numbers of troops near its border with Ukraine though denies American suggestions that it is planning to invade Ukraine, saying it wants guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion.
At a meeting with senior officials on Saturday, Tokayev said the deployment of the Russia-led military bloc known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Nur-Sultan had allowed Kazakh law enforcement agencies to be redeployed to intervene in Almaty.
Nazarbayev’s spokesperson said on Saturday that the former president was in Nur-Sultan, that he was in contact with Tokayev and that he had held phone calls with the heads of nations friendly to Kazakhstan. (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty and Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by William Mallard and Pravin Char)