At least 164 people have died in Kazakhstan during violent anti-government protests, according to media reports citing health officials.
If confirmed, it would represent a significant increase from the previous figure of 44 deaths.
According to Kazakhstan’s presidential office, nearly 6,000 people have been arrested, including “a significant number of foreign nationals.”
The protests, sparked by an increase in fuel prices, erupted into massive riots as they spread across the country.
They began on January 2nd and grew to reflect dissatisfaction with the government and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan for three decades and is still thought to wield significant power.
Last week, troops from various countries, including Russia, were dispatched to Kazakhstan to assist in restoring order.
The situation had stabilised, according to the presidential statement, with troops continuing “cleanup” operations and guarding “strategic facilities.”
A state of emergency and a nationwide curfew remain in place.
Kazakhstan: The basics
Where is it? Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia to the north and China to the east. It is a huge country the size of Western Europe.
Why does it matter? A former Soviet republic which is mainly Muslim with a large Russian minority, it has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors.
Why is it making the news? Fuel riots, which have escalated to become broader protests against the government, have resulted in resignations at the top and a bloody crackdown on protesters.
According to the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, there are obvious signs that security has been tightened in Nursultan, with the entrance to the city’s Presidential Palace blocked.
According to our correspondent, there is a growing suspicion that the recent violence is related to a power struggle within Kazakhstan’s ruling elite.
The latest violence claimed the lives of 103 people in Almaty, the country’s capital.
The security forces claimed that they killed rioters in Almaty while attempting to restore order, and that protesters attempted to seize control of the city’s police stations.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev claimed that “20,000 bandits” attacked Almaty and that he had ordered security forces to “fire without warning.”
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the president’s directive. “The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be revoked,” he said on ABC’s This Week.
He added that the US was also seeking clarification from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on why he had requested the presence of Russian troops.
On Saturday, Kazakh authorities said the country’s former intelligence chief Karim Massimov had been arrested on suspicion of treason. They gave no further details.