Kazakhstan denies US-funded bio-lab was seized by protesters, as deaths rise to 164 in bloody riots
Kazakhstan denies military laboratory was seized by rioters after Russia claimed a possible pathogen leak occurred at controversial facility, as country’s health ministry says more than 160 have been killed during protests in the country
The US-funded laboratory was reported to have fallen into protestors’ hands
However, officials have denied the claims, saying the biological lab is secure
At the secretive bio-lab, the outbreak of potentially deadly diseases is studied
Russian state media highlighted claims that a pathogen had escaped at the lab
There have been over 160 reported deaths since protests broke out last week
Officials in Kazakhstan have denied that a controversial ‘military biological laboratory’ was seized in the recent unrest, which has so far claimed 160 lives since starting on January 2.
It is not clear if the 164 deaths refer only to civilians or if law enforcement deaths are included, but the number – provided by the health ministry to state news channel Khabar-24 – are a significant rise from previous tallies.
Kazakh authorities said earlier on Sunday that 16 police or national guard members had been killed.
Russian media highlighted claims that the US-funded facility near Almaty was compromised, resulting in a possible leak of dangerous pathogens.
The airport, mayor’s office and secret services buildings fell briefly into the hands of rioters during a wave of protests backed by shadowy armed cells.
Officials in Kazakhstan have denied claims that a US-funded bio-lab had fallen into the hands of protesters, who briefly took control of an airport, the mayor’s office and secret service buildings
The secret bio-laboratory funded by the US defence department – which has links to Russian and Chinese scientists – was also compromised in the disturbances, according to social media claims that it was seized.
‘This is not true. The facility is being guarded,’ said the health ministry which is responsible for the Central Reference Laboratory, in Almaty.
Official Russian news agency TASS had highlighted alleged social media reports that it was taken over by ‘unidentified people’ and ‘specialists in chemical protection suits were working near the lab so a leak of dangerous pathogens could have occurred’.
The laboratory’s existence has been controversial and in 2020 the country formally denied that it was being used to make biological weapons.
At the time, the Kazakh government stated: ‘No biological weapons development is underway in Kazakhstan – and no research is conducted against any other states.’
It was built in 2017 and is used for the study of outbreaks of particularly dangerous infections.
Dangerous pathogens are stored here, it is reported.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday the situation in Kazakhstan had ‘stabilised’ and that he had authorised police and the military to shoot to kill to restore order
A ‘sizable number of foreign nationals’ have been detained among the Kazakhstan protesters, leading to questions about where these alleged foreign provocateurs come from
In 2018 there were claims – officially denied – that a new strain of meningitis had leaked from the lab.
The Kazakhs said earlier that no US personnel remain involved in the lab’s work, which included the study of Covid.
The furore over the lab came amid growing intrigue over the organisation of the protests that have now subsided after a large Russian force was sent to Kazakhstan.
Reports have cited well-coordinated armed groups alongside protesters against a gas price hike.
Pictures have emerged of guns seized in the riots in which almost 6,000 have been detained ‘with a sizable number of foreign nationals among them’.
It is as yet not clear where these alleged foreign provocateurs were from.
Pictures have also been released of Kazakh secret services operatives killed in the unrest.
Pictures of guns confiscated from protesters, almost 6,000 of whom have been detained, have been released
The head of the security service Karim Masimov, a close ally of ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been detained on suspicion of ‘treason’ relating to this week’s mayhem, and other officials have been purged by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who is now seen as dependent on Vladimir Putin for remaining in power.
Russia and allies Belarus have continued to pour troops and equipment into Kazakhstan.
Kazakh authorities said earlier on Sunday that 16 police or national guard members had been killed in the protests that started on January 2.
A total of 103 deaths were in Almaty, the country’s largest city, where demonstrators seized government buildings and set some on fire, according to the ministry. The country’s ombudswoman for children’s rights said that three of those killed were minors, including a four-year-old girl.
The ministry earlier reported more than 2,200 people sought treatment for injuries from the protests, and the Interior Ministry said about 1,300 security officers were injured.
About 5,800 people have been detained by police during the protests that developed into violence last week and prompted a Russia-led military alliance to send troops to the country, the office of Kazakhstan’s president said.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said the situation in the country has stabilised and authorities have regained control of administrative buildings which had been occupied by protesters.
Russian TV station Mir-24 said sporadic gunfire was heard in Almaty on Sunday but it was unclear whether they were warning shots by law enforcement.
Mr Tokayev said on Friday that he had authorised police and the military to shoot to kill to restore order.
Almaty’s airport, which had been taken by protesters last week, remained closed but was expected to resume operating on Monday.
Protests over a sharp rise in prices of LPG fuel began in western Kazakhstan on January 2 and spread throughout the country, apparently reflecting discontent extending beyond the fuel prices.
The same party has ruled Kazakhstan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Any figures aspiring to oppose the government have either been repressed, sidelined, or co-opted, and financial hardship is widespread despite the country’s enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.
Mr Tokayev contends that the demonstrations were ignited by ‘terrorists’ with foreign backing, although the protests have shown no obvious leaders or organisation.
The statement from his office on Sunday said the detentions included ‘a sizable number of foreign nationals’, but gave no details.
The health ministry said the bio-lab, where dangerous pathogens are reportedly kept, was being ‘guarded’
It was unclear how many of those detained remained in custody on Sunday.
The former head of Kazakhstan’s counter-intelligence and anti-terror agency has been arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
The arrest of Karim Masimov, which was announced on Saturday, came just days after he was removed as head of the National Security Committee by Mr Tokayev.
No details were given about what Mr Masimov was alleged to have done which would constitute such an attempt.
The National Security Committee, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for counter-intelligence, the border guards service and anti-terror activities.
Authorities say security forces killed 26 demonstrators in this week’s unrest and that 16 law enforcement officers died.
At Mr Tokayev’s request, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states, authorised sending about 2,500 mostly Russian troops to Kazakhstan as peacekeepers.
Some of the force is guarding government facilities in the capital, Nur-Sultan, which ‘made it possible to release part of the forces of Kazakhstani law enforcement agencies and redeploy them to Almaty to participate in the counter-terrorist operation’, according to a statement from Mr Tokayev’s office.
In a sign that the demonstrations were more deeply rooted than just the fuel price rise, many protesters shouted ‘Old man out’ – a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president from Kazakhstan’s independence until he resigned in 2019 and anointed Mr Tokayev as his successor.
Mr Nazarbayev retained substantial power as head of the National Security Council, but Mr Tokayev replaced him as council head amid this week’s unrest, possibly in a bid to mollify protesters.
However, Mr Nazarbayev’s adviser, Aido Ukibay, said on Sunday that it was done at Mr Nazarbayev’s initiative, according to the Kazakh news agency KazTag.