Kazakhstan arrests a former interior minister over crackdown on unrest that left 238 dead

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Authorities in Kazakhstan have arrested a former interior minister in connection with a deadly police crackdown on unrest that gripped the country in 2022, local media reported Tuesday.

The prosecutor general's office announced on Monday that Erlan Turgumbayev was detained on charges of “abuse of power and official authority resulting in grave consequences” in the crackdown. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is in charge of the police force. Turgumbayev was relieved of duty a month after the unrest.

In Almaty, the country’s largest city, protests turned violent and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued shoot-to-kill orders as demonstrators stormed government buildings. Officials said 238 people were killed.

The unrest started in the city of Zhanaozen on Jan. 2, 2022, when residents protested a sharp increase in the cost of liquefied petroleum gas, commonly used as fuel for vehicles in Kazakhstan.

The protests evolved into criticism of corruption and economic inequality under former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose critics accuse him of profiting off the country's vast energy wealth after taking office in 1991.

Nazarbayev resigned from the presidency in 2019 but still held substantial power at the time of the protests as head of Kazakhstan's security council.

Tokayev has pushed an array of reforms, including limiting the presidency to a single seven-year term. He removed Nazarbayev as head of the security council, and the capital city, which had been named Nur-Sultan in Nazarbayev's honor, reverted to its former name of Astana.