After Kazakhstan unrest, relatives await detainees' release

Police block the road to control the traffic in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)
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Police block the road to control the traffic in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)

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Credit: Uncredited

With life in Kazakhstan's largest city starting to return to normal after anti-government protests turned violent, relatives of the thousands arrested in the unrest are seeking to learn the fate of their loved ones

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — With about 12,000 people arrested after anti-government protests in Kazakhstan last week, friends and relatives of those held by police waited outside a jail Wednesday, hoping to learn their fate. Some even went to morgues to see if a loved one was among the scores killed in the unprecedented violence in the Central Asian nation.

Authorities have refused to allow relatives or lawyers to see those in custody, giving little information about them, according to human rights activists.

The demonstrations began Jan. 2 in the western part of Kazakhstan over a sharp rise in fuel prices and spread throughout the country, apparently reflecting wider discontent with the government, which declared a state of emergency for the whole country and asked a Russia-led military alliance to send in troops to help restore order.

Another 1,678 people were arrested in the past 24 hours in Almaty, the largest city that was hit hardest by the turmoil, and more than 300 criminal investigations have been opened. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the unrest on foreign-backed “terrorists,” but did not provide any evidence, and had given shoot-to-kill orders to security forces to quell the unrest.

Outside a branch of the Internal Affairs department that housed a large detention center, a man who gave his name only as Renat said he has been waiting nearly a week to see or get any information about a close friend, Zhandos Nakipovich. He said Nakipovich, whom he described as being like “a brother” to him, was taken into custody on Jan. 4 during a peaceful protest.

“He was at first held at a precinct, then they told us he was in the Internal Affairs department," Renat told The Associated Press. "Since Jan. 6, we’ve been here and we don’t know whether he’s alive or not.”

Military checkpoints prevented anyone from getting close to the building.

“Neither lawyers nor relatives — no one is allowed inside. Lawyers should be present during interrogation, but as you see, no one can pass,” said Galym Ageleuov, head of the Liberty human rights group, who was waiting at the barricade.

“The checkpoint blocks the access for lawyers and relatives to see what’s going on there. We don’t even have the list of detainees,” Ageleuov said.

More than a dozen men and women in dark winter clothes gathered outside one of Almaty's morgues, with some of them waiting to collect the bodies of relatives killed in the unrest. Huddled together in small groups, they stood at the gate of the facility, chatting quietly with each other but refused to talk to a reporter.

Although the official death toll was announced as 164, Tokayev has said hundreds of civilians and security forces were killed and injured.

Life in Almaty has started returning to normal after days of unrest that saw cars and buses torched, government buildings stormed and set ablaze, the airport seized and the sound of gunfire ringing out. The unrest had largely ended by last weekend.

Public transportation has resumed and shopping malls reopened, and the only reminders of the violence were occasional military roadblocks and the charred exterior of city hall, which was set ablaze at the height of the rioting.

Authorities in the energy-rich country of 19 million sought to mollify the anger at the government by capping fuel prices for 180 days. The Cabinet resigned, and longtime former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev was ousted from his influential post of head of the National Security Council. Nazarbayev had stepped down as president in 2019 after nearly three decades in power, but retained influence in the security forces.

Tokayev requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a Russia-led military alliance of six ex-Soviet states. The bloc sent over 2,000 troops to Kazakhstan, and Tokayev said the troops will start withdrawing Thursday.

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In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, second left, speaks to one of wounded during the unrest as he visited the Traumatology Department of the hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)

Credit: AMAN

In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, second left, speaks to one of wounded during the unrest as he visited the Traumatology Department of the hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)
caption arrowCaption
In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, second left, speaks to one of wounded during the unrest as he visited the Traumatology Department of the hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)

Credit: AMAN

Credit: AMAN

caption arrowCaption
In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, center, visits the Center for Operational Management of the Police Department in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)

Credit: AMAN

In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, center, visits the Center for Operational Management of the Police Department in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)
caption arrowCaption
In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, center, visits the Center for Operational Management of the Police Department in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)

Credit: AMAN

Credit: AMAN

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In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area in Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area in Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
caption arrowCaption
In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area in Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

caption arrowCaption
In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, A Russian peacekeeper of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guards an area at Kazakhtelecom office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, A Russian peacekeeper of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guards an area at Kazakhtelecom office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
caption arrowCaption
In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, A Russian peacekeeper of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guards an area at Kazakhtelecom office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

caption arrowCaption
In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, right, shakes hands with Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Stanislav Zas prior to their talks in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on foreign-backed "terrorists" and requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a Russia-led military alliance comprising of six ex-Soviet states. The bloc authorized sending 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan. Tokayev said Tuesday that the CSTO will start withdrawing its troops this week, as they have completed their mission and the situation in the country has stabilized. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, right, shakes hands with Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Stanislav Zas prior to their talks in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on foreign-backed "terrorists" and requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a Russia-led military alliance comprising of six ex-Soviet states. The bloc authorized sending 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan. Tokayev said Tuesday that the CSTO will start withdrawing its troops this week, as they have completed their mission and the situation in the country has stabilized. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)
caption arrowCaption
In this photo released by Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, right, shakes hands with Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Stanislav Zas prior to their talks in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on foreign-backed "terrorists" and requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a Russia-led military alliance comprising of six ex-Soviet states. The bloc authorized sending 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan. Tokayev said Tuesday that the CSTO will start withdrawing its troops this week, as they have completed their mission and the situation in the country has stabilized. (Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

caption arrowCaption
Police block the road to control the traffic in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)

Credit: Uncredited

Police block the road to control the traffic in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)
caption arrowCaption
Police block the road to control the traffic in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

caption arrowCaption
A police officer watches over a man as his papers are checked by colleagues at a crossing, on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Life in Almaty, which was affected with the violence the most during protests, started returning to normal this week, with public transport resuming operation and malls reopening. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov)

Credit: Vasily Krestyaninov

A police officer watches over a man as his papers are checked by colleagues at a crossing, on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Life in Almaty, which was affected with the violence the most during protests, started returning to normal this week, with public transport resuming operation and malls reopening. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov)
caption arrowCaption
A police officer watches over a man as his papers are checked by colleagues at a crossing, on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Life in Almaty, which was affected with the violence the most during protests, started returning to normal this week, with public transport resuming operation and malls reopening. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov)

Credit: Vasily Krestyaninov

Credit: Vasily Krestyaninov

caption arrowCaption
In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area at Kazakhtelecom office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area at Kazakhtelecom office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
caption arrowCaption
In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area at Kazakhtelecom office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The president of Kazakhstan has announced that a Russia-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the Central Asian country in two days after completing its mission. The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president's request amid unprecedented public unrest. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

caption arrowCaption
Pedestrians walk through a crosswalk in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)

Credit: Uncredited

Pedestrians walk through a crosswalk in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)
caption arrowCaption
Pedestrians walk through a crosswalk in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Kazakh authorities said Wednesday they detained 1,678 more people in the past 24 hours over their alleged participation in the violent unrest that rocked the former Soviet nation last week, the worst since Kazakhstan gained independence three decades ago. (AP Photo)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited