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American TimesNY Times: Kazakh unrest is result of intensifying power struggle

NY Times: Kazakh unrest is result of intensifying power struggle


A heated debate among protesters in Kazakhstan.  (AP Photo)
A heated debate among protesters in Kazakhstan. (AP Photo)

Karim Masimov, the head of the National Security Council of Kazakhstan, has been arrested on suspicion of treason, the National Security Council of Kazakhstan announced on Saturday (January 8). The U.S. State Department also reminded U.S. citizens in Kazakhstan that the situation there “may seriously affect” the ability of U.S. embassies to provide consular services, including assisting U.S. citizens leaving Kazakhstan.

Massimov served twice as Prime Minister of Kazakhstan and later as Chairman of Kazakhstan’s National Security Council. A few days ago, rioters stormed the government building in Almaty, and Massimov was immediately dismissed as chairman of the National Security Council.

A peaceful protest against fuel price hikes has turned into a massive violent riot. Dozens of people have been killed so far, including 26 “armed criminals” and 18 security officials, according to the Kazakh interior ministry. Thousands more were arrested.

Almaty, the country’s largest and wealthiest city, has been reduced to a seemingly war-torn ruin. The BBC’s correspondent in Almaty described the smell of burning cars in the air of the city, and there were few people on the streets, a kind of “doomsday movie” scene.

Analysts have different views on why the disaster happened. A Reuters report on Saturday suggested that the government’s increase in the price of key motor fuels was just a trigger point, but the real cause was the public’s long-standing grievances over soaring domestic prices, falling living standards and government corruption.

Annual inflation in Kazakhstan is now close to 9 percent, the highest in more than five years. The central bank raised interest rates to 9.75% in order to control inflation.

But the analysis of the New York Times article argues that the unrest in Kazakhstan is the result of a heated power struggle at the top of the country.

The report quoted Russian Central Asia expert Danil Kislov as saying that the unrest in Kazakhstan was the result of a “death struggle for power” between infighting political blocs.”

The political group Kislov is referring to here is the forces of the current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 68, and the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81.

Tokayev announced at the height of the unrest on Wednesday that he was taking over as head of the security committee that Nazarbayev has controlled since leaving office. Nazarbayev stepped down in 2019, but he still wields a lot of power. Tokayev also removed Nazarbayev’s nephew as deputy head of the security committee and purged several officials loyal to Nazarbayev.

Kislov pointed out that the unrest in Almaty looked like an attempt by Nazarbayev’s political forces to turn the tide. “It was completely orchestrated by those in real power,” he said, and Nazarbayev’s nephew appeared to have played a major organizing role in the unrest.

According to the New York Times, Almaty-based human rights activist Galym Ageleulov pointed out that “this group of people appeared” after police officers who were at the protest site abruptly withdrew around noon on Wednesday. He called the gang a savage thug who “looked like thugs, not ordinary people like students, dissidents or middle class”.

Agrelov said the thugs were “clearly organized criminal gangs” and rushed to the city hall, setting cars on fire along the way and storming government offices.

The Kazakh interior ministry announced on Friday that government special forces had arrested Dzhumageldiev, the ringleader of the criminal group.

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