The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and counterterrorism agency has been arrested for attempting to overthrow the government following violent protests the president blamed on foreign-backed terrorists.
Karim Masimov’s arrest was announced on Saturday by the National Security Committee, which Kasimov headed until he was ousted this week by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Authorities say security forces killed 26 protesters in this week’s unrest and 18 law enforcement officials have died. More than 4,400 people have been arrested, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.
The protests in the Central Asian country were the most widespread since Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The unrest began in the far west of the country as protests against the sharp rise in the prices of liquefied petroleum gas, widely used as vehicle fuel, spread to the country’s largest city, Almaty, where protesters seized and torched government buildings.
At Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance made up of six former Soviet states, authorized the dispatch of around 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan in as peacekeepers. Part of the force guards government facilities in the capital Nour-Sultan, which “freed part of the Kazakh security forces and redeployed them to Almaty to participate in the anti-terrorism operation,” according to the report. a press release from Tokayev’s office.
Tokayev said on Friday that he had authorized security forces to shoot to kill those participating in the unrest. No unrest was immediately reported in Almaty on Saturday, but police broke up a protest and made arrests in Aktau town, while sporadic gunfire was heard in Kyzylorda, said the Russian agency Sputnik.
No details were given of what Masimov, the head of the security agency, allegedly did that would constitute an attempt to overthrow the government. The agency, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counterintelligence, border guard service and counterterrorism activities.
Although the protests began as denunciations of the near doubling of LPG prices earlier this year, their spread and intense violence indicate that they reflect widespread discontent in the country ruled by the same party for more than 30 years. .
Many protesters were shouting “old man out,” a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who served as independence president until his resignation in 2019 and the anointing of Tokayev as his successor. Nazarbayev, who received the title of Ebasy (leader of the nation), retained substantial power after his resignation as head of the National Security Council.
But Tokayev removed him from his post as council chief amid the unrest, possibly aiming for a concession to appease protesters. Nazarbayev remained invisible during the chaos, but on Saturday his spokesperson said that Nazarbayev is in the capital and “calls on everyone to rally around the President of Kazakhstan to overcome the current challenges and ensure the integrity of our country”.