Ethnic clashes in Kazakhstan leave eight dead, scores wounded

NUR-SULTAN/ALMATY (Reuters) - Eight people were killed and scores wounded in a series of clashes overnight in villages in Kazakhstan’s southern Zhambyl province, with homes and businesses torched, the interior minister said on Saturday.

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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.

Reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan and Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; Editing by Stephen Coates and Ros Russell