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Death toll from Kazakhstan ethnic clashes rises to 10

By Reuters | February 9th 2020
A view shows buildings, which were burnt down during a recent brawl and a series of clashes in Masanchi village in the southern Zhambyl province, Kazakhstan February 8, 2020. [Reuters]

Two more people have died from wounds sustained in the February 7 clashes in southern Kazakhstan, bringing the total number of casualties to 10, the authorities said on Sunday. 

The incident triggered by an argument over right of way led to a brawl between ethnic Kazakhs and Dungans, a minority group with Chinese roots, followed by an overnight rampage in which an angry crowd torched dozens of buildings and cars.

A total of 140 people sought medical attention in Kazakhstan after the clashes and 25 more went to doctors in neighboring Kyrgyzstan where many Dungans fled after the violence.

Deputy Interior Minister Alexei Kalaichidi said on Sunday dozens of people remained in detention as police were establishing their roles in the incident.

Police were also investigating a number of people across the nation of 19 million suspected of using the clashes to spread hate speech, he said.

Some 70 people were involved in the initial confrontation on the outskirts of Masanchi village, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan, Yerlan Turgumbayev told a news briefing.

Violence spread to several nearby villages and crowds clashed with police, wounding two officers with gunshots, and torched dozens of buildings and cars. Police detained 47 people and confiscated two hunting shotguns, Turgumbayev said.

The area is home to many members of the Dungan minority group, Muslims of ethnic Chinese origin who control many of the local businesses. It was unclear what sparked the clashes between groups of young male Dungans and ethnic Kazakhs.

State television station Khabar showed the aftermath of the violence in one of the villages, with small stores and two-storey family houses destroyed by fire.

Police and the National Guard had brought the situation under control, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a statement on Saturday, ordering authorities to take steps to maintain calm in the villages.

Tokayev called for a thorough investigation and instructed security agencies to prosecute those spreading ethnic hate speech, “provocative rumours and disinformation”.

Information Minister Dauren Abayev said authorities had temporarily closed a large outdoor market in Kakakhstan’s largest city Almaty due to the threat of further violence.

An eyewitness told Reuters he saw many Dungan families cross the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border on Saturday to be met by relatives on the Kyrgyz side.

“They meet those who cross the border and take them to their homes. It’s mostly women, children and the elderly,” said the man, who asked not to be named.

The violence has exposed the fragility of inter-ethnic relations in Kazakhstan, an oil-rich nation of about 19 million. It has long prided itself on fostering harmony among the complex mix of 120 ethnicities that it inherited from the Soviet Union.

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