More than 160 people were reported Sunday to have died in several days of unrest in Kazakhstan and almost 6,000 have been arrested after riots in Central Asia’s largest country.
The energy-rich nation of 19 million people has been rocked by a week of upheaval, with a number of foreigners detained over the unrest.
The new figures — which have not been independently verified — would mark a drastic increase in the death toll.
Later Sunday the statement disappeared from the government Telegram channel.
In total, 5,800 people have been detained for questioning, including “a substantial number of foreign nationals”, the presidency said in a statement Sunday, following a crisis meeting led by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
– Live rounds fired –
The interior ministry, quoted Sunday by local media, put property damage at around 175 million euros ($199 million).
A relative calm appeared to have returned to Almaty, with police occasionally firing shots in the air to stop people approaching the city’s central square, an AFP correspondent said.
Kazakhstan said Saturday its former security chief had been arrested for suspected treason.
The domestic intelligence agency, the National Security Committee (KNB), announced Masimov had been detained on Thursday on suspicion of high treason.
The arrest came after protests turned into widespread violence, with government buildings in Almaty stormed and set ablaze.
Nazarbayev’s spokesman Aidos Ukibay on Sunday again denied rumours the ex-president had left the country and said he supported the president.
On Friday, Tokayev said 20,000 “armed bandits” had attacked Almaty and he authorised his forces to shoot to kill without warning.
“That is something that I absolutely reject. The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded,” President Joe Biden’s top diplomat told ABC Sunday talk show “This Week.”
Many protesters shouted “old man out!” in reference to Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan.
– Foreign intervention –
Almaty’s airport will remain closed “until the situation is stabilised”, authorities said Sunday.
Tokayev has thanked the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for sending troops to help deal with the unrest.
“I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” he told reporters.
Russia has ruled out any concessions at the talks.