The former head of Kazakhstan's counterintelligence and anti-terror agency has been arrested on charges of attempted government overthrow in the wake of violent protests that the president has blamed on foreign-backed terrorists.
The arrest of Karim Masimov was announced Saturday by the National Security Committee, which Kasimov headed until he was removed this week by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Authorities say security forces killed 26 demonstrators in this week's unrest and that 18 law-enforcement officers died. More than 4,400 people have been arrested, the Interior Ministry said Saturday.
A day after Moscow sent paratroopers to help crush the insurrection, police were patrolling the debris-strewn streets of Almaty, although some gunfire could still be heard. Dozens have died and public buildings across Kazakhstan have been ransacked and torched in the worst violence the ex-Soviet republic has experienced in 30 years of independence.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-trained terrorists for the unrest, without providing evidence. “The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them,” Tokayev, 68, said in a televised address. “Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed. I have given the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to shoot to kill, without warning.”
The unrest began in the country's far west as protests against a sharp rise in prices for liquefied petroleum gas that is widely used as vehicle fuel, and spread to the country's largest city, Almaty, where demonstrators seized and burned government buildings.
- With inputs from agencies.