Eight dead, 40 hurt in Kazakhstan clashes
February 8, 2020 07:28 PM
Eight people have been killed, dozens hurt and property burned during clashes in southern Kazakhstan, prompting concern Saturday from authorities who portray the country as a beacon of stability.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held an emergency government session Saturday to tackle the violence Friday in an ethnically-mixed pocket of the Jambyl region, near the border with Kyrgyzstan.
A commission of inquiry was also set up. "Eight died, more than 40 were injured" in the clashes in the Jambyl region, Interior Minister Yerlan Turgumbayev said in the capital Nur-Sultan.
Turgumbayev said 30 houses, 15 commercial properties and 23 cars were damaged in the clashes that saw 47 people detained. Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan's health ministry said that a hospital in the city of Tokmak close to the border admitted 18 patients following the clashes, 10 of whom were still being treated there.
Kyrgyzstan's border service noted "an increase in passenger traffic (mainly women and children) from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan" at two border crossings near where the clashes took place. President Tokayev said the situation in the region was now "under the control" of police and the national guard.
He said the fighting occurred in a number of settlements in the Kordai district of Jambyl region, clashes and group fights between local residents took place. "Unfortunately there are injuries and fatalities. I express my sincere condolences to the close ones of those who died," Tokayev said during the emergency session.
The Prime Minister's office said a government commission was set up to "determine the reasons for the conflict, decide questions of a socioeconomic and humanitarian character, and determine the scale of the damage."
Footage posted to social media late on Friday night showed scenes of young men, some armed with clubs, marching along the road of a village with buildings ablaze either side. The conflict is widely believed to have pitted titular Kazakhs against minority Dungans.
But Dauren Abayev, Kazakhstan's information minister, said it had been sparked by an "everyday confrontation."
Abayev also said that key bazaars in Almaty had been closed to ensure the conflict did not spread. "There were calls for violence at these markets," he told journalists in the capital Nur-Sultan. "Accordingly, precautionary measures were taken," he said of the markets where ethnically diverse populations of traders sell wares from China, Turkey and other countries.
A Dungan lawmaker, a chair of a Dungan association and the deputy chairman of the Kazakhstan's Assembly of the Peoples are among those included in the commission. The chair of the Dungan Association of Kazakhstan Abubakir Vointse told AFP it was too early to comment on the clashes. "The commission's work will begin today," Vointse said by telephone.
A driver called Bakytjan who takes passengers from Kazakhstan's border with Kyrgyzstan to the main city of Almaty, told AFP by telephone "the police and the army" were guarding the entrance to the Masanchi village at the centre of the conflict. He said that the conflict had begun after a man from the Dungan minority ethnic group attacked an elderly Kazakh man.
Private news agency Kaztag cited Kusei Daurov, head of the Dungan association, as saying that more than ten homes were burned by "young men that had arrived" in the village of Masanchi on Friday. He also claimed that the attackers had fired shots at local residents in the comments reported late on Friday.
Kazakhstan's authoritarian leadership prides itself on guaranteeing inter-ethnic harmony in a country where the foreign ministry says "over 100 ethnic groups are living in peace." The Dungans are a Muslim people who live in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and northwestern China.