NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (AFP) — Violent unrest in Kazakhstan that began with peaceful protests in early January over energy prices has left 225 people dead, authorities said Saturday, in a dramatic increase on previous tolls.
The demonstrations spiraled into unprecedented clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the energy-rich ex-Soviet state, prompting President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to declare a state of emergency and call in help from a Russian-led military bloc.
“During the state of emergency, the bodies of 225 people were delivered to morgues, of which 19 were law enforcement officers and military personnel,” Serik Shalabayev, a representative of the state prosecutor, said at a briefing Saturday.
Others were “armed bandits who participated in terrorist attacks,” Shalabayev added.
“Unfortunately, civilians have also become victims of acts of terrorism.”
Kazakhstan had previously acknowledged fewer than 50 fatalities — 26 “armed criminals” and 18 security officers in the conflict that exposed infighting at the very top of the government.
A higher death toll of 164 that appeared on an official Telegram channel last week was quickly retracted.
Asel Artakshinova, a spokesperson for the health ministry, said that more than 2,600 people had sought treatment at hospitals, with 67 currently in a serious condition.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have blamed the violence on bandits and international “terrorists” that they said hijacked the protests that saw the epicenter of unrest move from the west to the country’s largest city Almaty.