Nearly 8,000 Detained After Kazakhstan Unrest

A demonstrator signs a huge placard reading “Say No To Putin” during an action dubbed #SayNOtoPutin in Kyiv on January 9, 2022. Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

Nearly 8,000 people have been detained in Kazakhstan after days of historic unrest in the Central Asian country that left dozens dead, the interior ministry said Monday.

“As of January 10, 7,939 people have been detained,” the interior ministry said in a statement noting that several branches of the security services had been involved in the detentions.

Ex-Soviet Kazakhstan on Monday was observing a day of national mourning after the worst unrest in the republic’s independent history.

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The National Security Committee said in a statement that the country, including government and military facilities, was fully under the control of security services.

“Areas, where militants and rioters might be hiding, are being cleared. Evidence of criminal activity is being collected and recorded,” the statement read.

Kazakhstan framed the violence as an attack by “terrorist groups” and has criticised foreign media coverage of the events, which began with protests over a fuel price hike in the west of the country at the beginning of the month.

During the unrest, the Moscow-led CSTO military alliance sent a detachment of 2,500 troops to the country following a request from Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The leaders of CSTO countries — an alliance of former Soviet states — were due to meet via video link on Monday, including with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

AFP  

Kazakhstan President Fires Cabinet

Kazakhstan on Google map

 

Kazakhstan’s president sacked the Central Asian country’s cabinet Wednesday in a bid to head off unprecedented unrest across the nation that followed an energy price hike.

More than 200 people were detained during protests that swept across Kazakhstan following a New Year increase in prices for Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is widely used to fuel cars in the west of the country.

Thousands took to the streets in the largest city Almaty and in the western province of Mangystau, saying the price rise was unfair given oil and gas exporter Kazakhstan’s vast energy reserves.

Clashes erupted in Almaty, with police firing stun grenades and tear gas into a crowd of more than 5,000 people that marched through central streets shouting anti-government slogans and sometimes attacking vehicles.

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The interior ministry said 95 police officers were injured, saying protesters “succumbed to provocations” and “groups of citizens blocked roads and blocked traffic, disrupting public order”.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev moved with speed after the unrest, accepting the resignation of the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Askar Mamin.

He also imposed states of emergency in Almaty, the financial capital, and Mangystau province from January 5 until January 19.

An overnight curfew will be in place in both territories from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am, with restrictions on movement in and out of the areas.

Protesters in Almaty had dispersed overnight and the streets were also quiet in the capital Nur-Sultan.

‘Old Man Out’ 

Tokayev had called for a return to calm in a video posted on Facebook.

“The government will not be felled, but we don’t need conflict,” Tokayev said in the address.

The protesters in Almaty yelled “old man out” — a reference to Tokayev’s still-powerful predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev — and “government resign” before police moved in, sparking battles with demonstrators.

Tokayev took office in 2019, handpicked as a successor by Nazarbayev, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of five ex-Soviet nations in Central Asia, Kazakhstan is of crucial importance to Russia as an economic partner and home to a large ethnic Russian population.

Its authoritarian government tolerates little real opposition and has been accused of silencing independent voices and media.

Spontaneous, unsanctioned protests are illegal despite a 2020 law that passed easing some restrictions of freedom of assembly.

Limits appeared to have been imposed on the internet on Wednesday, with messenger apps Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp all unavailable. Two independent media websites that reported on the protests also appeared to be blocked.

Smaller rallies had been staged in cities across the republic of 19 million people from Sunday, beginning with the town of Zhanaozen in Mangystau.

Gas Price Rise Outrage

The initial cause of the unrest was a spike in prices for LPG in hydrocarbon-rich Mangystau, but a government move to lower the prices in line with protesters’ demands failed to calm them.

Reports by independent media suggested that Tokayev’s announcement of a new price of 50 tenge (11 US cents) per litre, down from 120 at the beginning of the year, failed to weaken the rallies in Zhanaozen and Mangystau’s capital Aktau as demonstrators aired new demands.

Footage from Aktau shared on social media Tuesday showed thousands of protesters — who had camped in the city centre overnight — encircled by police.

Most had dispersed from the city centre by Wednesday, state broadcaster Khabar reported.

In 2011, at least 14 striking oil workers were killed in Zhanaozen as police crushed a protest over pay and working conditions, the deadliest unrest since the republic gained independence in 1991.

Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, retains control over the country as chairman of the security council and “Leader of the Nation” — a constitutional role that affords him unique policymaking privileges as well as immunity from prosecution.

AFP

Kazakhstan Abolishes Death Penalty

 

Kazakhstan abolished the death penalty, making permanent a nearly two-decade freeze on capital punishment in the authoritarian Central Asian country, a notice on the presidential website said Saturday. 

The notice said President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had signed off on parliamentary ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — a document that commits signatories to the abolition of capital punishment.

Executions were paused in Kazakhstan from 2003 but courts continued to sentence convicts to death in exceptional circumstances, including for crimes deemed acts of terror.

Ruslan Kulekbayev, a lone gunman who killed eight policemen and two civilians during a rampage in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty in 2016, was among the convicts set to be executed if the moratorium were lifted.

Kulekbayev will now serve a life sentence in jail instead.

Kazakhstan Imposes ‘Second Wave’ Of Restrictions As COVID-19 Surges

A healthcare worker gives a Covid-19 test to a medical staff near Halyk Arena in Almaty, on July 5, 2020 as Kazakhstan imposed a second round of nationwide restrictions to counter a huge surge in coronavirus cases since the previous lockdown that has overwhelmed the oil-rich country’s healthcare system. Ruslan PRYANIKOV / AFP

 

Kazakhstan on Sunday imposed a second round of nationwide restrictions to counter a huge surge in coronavirus cases since the previous lockdown, which has overwhelmed the oil-rich country’s healthcare system.

Shopping centres, gyms, swimming pools, hairdressers and beauty salons have all closed down for the next two weeks, a measure that authorities may choose to extend.

An AFP correspondent saw long queues outside pharmacies in the country’s largest city Almaty, where demand for medicines such as paracetamol has far outstripped supply.

Yevgeny Yermin was waiting to buy medicines for his 76-year-old mother, who has coronavirus symptoms.

He said that he had not taken the virus seriously until it hit his own family.

“A week ago we lost our grandfather (to the coronavirus). We thought it was all some sort of a joke. Turns out it isn’t a joke at all,” Yermin told AFP.

Kazakhstan imposed a strict lockdown in late March that saw important sectors of the economy grind to a halt and prevented most travel.

But it was one of the first Central Asian countries to lift restrictions in late May, when it had less than 9,000 confirmed cases.

Since then however, coronavirus cases have risen more than five-fold, reaching over 47,000 with 188 fatalities.

– Stadium converted to field hospital –

The new restrictions are notably less stringent — travel between most cities remains possible and citizens can fly in and out of the country.

Darya, a 17-year-old Almaty resident, told AFP she felt the second lockdown was not strict enough.

“In parks, people are walking around without masks and gathering in big crowds,” she said, adding that several of her friends were currently ill with the virus.

The growth in cases is putting acute strain on hospitals, with several hospital chiefs reporting that they are full or nearing capacity.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev earlier this week ordered a 50-percent expansion in the number of hospital beds.

Almaty’s Halyk Arena, a sports stadium that usually stages ice hockey and volleyball matches, is being converted into a temporary hospital with the capacity to receive up to 1,000 coronavirus patients in the coming weeks.

The arena is already being used as coronavirus testing point.

Aliya Baygaliyeva, the doctor in charge, told AFP that the centre had a capacity of up to 800 tests per day, but until recently had been hampered by a two-week delay in supplies of reagents from South Korea.

Last month only 70 to 80 people per day came to take tests, but now there was far more demand, she said.

“(The virus) has gathered strength. We are seeing a lot more people here now.”

AFP

Kazakhstan’s First President Nazarbayev Tests Positive For COVID-19

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 18, 2018, Kazakhstan’s first President Nursultan Nazarbayev looks on as he arrives for an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) at the European Council in Brussels. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

 

Kazakhstan’s 79-year-old former president and official ‘Leader of the Nation’ Nursultan Nazarbayev has tested positive for the coronavirus, a statement on his official website said Thursday.

“Currently, the First President of Kazakhstan is in self-isolation. Unfortunately, the last test… for the coronavirus infection showed a positive result. There is no cause for concern,” the statement said.

The statement said that Nazarbayev is “continuing to work remotely.”

Strongman Nazarbayev, who turns 80 next month, served as Kazakhstan’s president for close to three decades before handing the reins over to hand-picked successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last year.

He retains a number of powerful positions in the authoritarian Central Asian country including the chairmanships of the national security council and the ruling party.

He is also constitutionally honoured as the ‘Leader of the Nation’ — a designation that provides him with unique policymaking privileges.

Other high-ranking Kazakh officials who said this month they tested positive for the coronavirus include Health Minister Yelzhan Birtanov and Nurlan Nigmatulin, who is the chairman of the lower house.

Berik Uali, President Tokayev’s spokesman, also tested positive for the virus.

Record-Breaking US Astronaut Returns To Earth

This NASA photo released on February 4, 20202 shows NASA astronaut Christina Koch during a spacewalk on January 15, 2020. Photo: HANDOUT / NASA / AFP

 

NASA’s Christina Koch returned to Earth on Thursday having shattered the spaceflight record for female astronauts after almost a year aboard the International Space Station.

Koch touched down on the Kazakh steppe at 0912 GMT after 328 days in space along with Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency.

The 41-year-old Michigan-born engineer by training surpassed the previous record set for a single spaceflight by a woman — 289 days, held by NASA veteran Peggy Whitson — on December 28, 2019.

Koch had already made history by that point after she became one half of the first-ever all-woman spacewalk along with NASA counterpart Jessica Meir in October.

Koch told NBC on Tuesday that she would “miss microgravity” as she answered questions from journalists ahead of her three-and-a-half-hour journey back to Earth.

“It’s really fun to be in a place where you can just bounce around between the ceiling and the floor whenever you want,” she said, smiling as she twisted her body around the ISS.

‘Make space for women’

Koch called three-time flyer Whitson “a heroine of mine” and a “mentor” in the space programme after she surpassed the 59-year-old’s record.

She also spoke of her desire to “inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Koch’s return comes after an advert produced by the skincare brand Olay ran during an intermission in the American football Super Bowl with a call to “make space for women.”

The advert featured NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and saw the company promise to donate up to $500,000 to the nonprofit Women Who Code, which works with young women seeking careers in tech and scientific fields.

This year’s Super Bowl was watched by over 100 million people while advert space costs more than $5 million for a 30-second commercial.

The first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova whose spaceflight in 1963 is still the only solo mission carried out by a woman.

But the cosmonauts Russia has sent to the ISS since expeditions began in 2000 have all been men with the exception of Yelena Serova’s launch in 2014.

Both Tereshkova and Serova are now lawmakers in the Russian parliament, where they represent the ruling United Russia party.

Unlike Koch, whose stay aboard the ISS was extended, Parmitano and Skvortsov are rounding off regular six-month missions.

Parmitano handed over command of the ISS to Roscosmos’ Oleg Skripochka on Tuesday.

The 43-year-old Italian posted regular shots of the Earth while aboard, highlighting the plight of the Amazon rainforest and poetically describing the Alps as “like a spinal column, never bending to time.”

Four male cosmonauts have spent a year or longer in space as part of a single mission with Valery Polyakov’s 437 days the overall record.

Scott Kelly holds the record for a NASA astronaut, posting 340 days at the ISS before he returned home in 2016.

Kazakhstan Observes Day Of Mourning After Fatal Plane Crash

This handout picture taken on December 27, 2019 and released by Kazakhstan's emergencies committee shows rescuers working at the site of a passenger plane crash outside Almaty. HO / Kazakhstan's emergencies committee / AFP
This handout picture taken on December 27, 2019 and released by Kazakhstan’s emergencies committee shows rescuers working at the site of a passenger plane crash outside Almaty. HO / Kazakhstan’s emergencies committee / AFP

 

Kazakhstan observed a national day of mourning on Saturday a day after 12 people died when an airliner crashed shortly after takeoff and slammed into a house.

The jet carrying nearly 100 passengers operated by budget carrier Bek Air was torn apart and its nose crushed on impact with a building in the country’s biggest city Almaty, but many onboard managed to walk away without serious injury.

In the capital Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s largest flag was at half-mast while officials made urgent appeals for blood donations to help injured survivors.

Neighbouring Russia and China were among the countries to join the Vatican and the European Union in expressing condolences to the former Soviet Central Asian republic.

Officials say the Fokker 100 plane’s tail hit the tarmac twice on Friday during take-off before it came down and crashed into the concrete building, splitting into two.

According to Kazakh emergency authorities, the 12 dead included the pilot. Another 47 passengers out of the 98 people onboard were still in hospital on Saturday. Nine of them were children, officials said.

An investigation has been opened into “violation of security regulations and air transport operating rules”. But the interior ministry is still examining possible causes for the accident.

According to the authorities, an inquiry should announce its first conclusions next month. But a dozen other Bek Air aircraft will be grounded in the meantime.

According to the industry ministry, the low-cost airline operates nine Fokker-100 type aircraft, a medium-haul model built by the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker.

In March 2016, a Bek Air Fokker 100 with 116 passengers on board had to make an emergency landing at Nur-Sultan International Airport due to a landing gear problem, without causing injuries.

15 Killed As Plane Crashes In Kazakhstan

 

 

At least 15 people died and dozens were injured on Friday when a passenger plane carrying 100 people crashed shortly after takeoff from Kazakhstan’s largest city and slammed into a house, state media reported.

The Fokker 100 Bek Air plane disappeared from the radar minutes after it took off from Almaty airport at 7.05 am (01:05 GMT) on its way to the capital Nur-Sultan with 95 passengers and five crew members, the airport authority said in a statement.

It hit a concrete barrier and then slammed into a two-storey building. The reason for the crash, which took place near the city’s boundary northeast of the airport, was not immediately known.

A video released by the Central Asian country’s emergencies committee showed the plane split into pieces with its nose crushed into a partially collapsed house, as rescue crews worked to pull people from the wreckage.

Rescue workers could be seen reaching into the windows of the shattered cockpit, as scores of emergency staff rushed to the site.

The head of Almaty’s health service, Tleukhan Abildayev, said 14 people died at the scene while a young woman died later in hospital.

A total of 66 people were injured, of whom 50 were hospitalised, with 12 in an “extremely serious condition”, he said.

Nine children were among the injured.

Kazakhstan responded to the crash by grounding the model, which makes up the whole of the Bek Air fleet

No one was inside the house that the plane crashed into, Khabar state television reported.

– Those responsible ‘will be punished’ –

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pledged to provide families of the victims with compensation and tweeted that those responsible “will be severely punished in accordance with the law.”

Tokayev also said that a government commission had been set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

The interior ministry said it had launched a criminal investigation into the incident over violations of air transport safety rules.

The plane was 23 years old and had passed safety checks in May, Kazakh authorities said.

The industry ministry said in a statement that the Fokker-100 model, which is no longer manufactured, would be grounded until the cause of the accident became clear.

Bek Air describes itself on its website as Kazakhstan’s first low-cost airline.

In March 2016, a Bek Air Fokker-100 plane with 116 passengers made an emergency landing at the capital’s international airport after its landing gear failed to deploy. None of the passengers or five-member crew were injured.

Swiss regional carrier Helvetic Airways phased out its Dutch-built Fokker-100s earlier this year after 15 years of service.

Informburo.kz news agency said one of its journalists, Dana Kruglova, was among the dead.

“(Her) trip had been uncertain, since she had work meetings planned in Almaty. But Dana wanted to celebrate the New Year with her parents in Nur-Sultan and decided to take this flight,” the news agency said.

AFP

Incumbent Tokayev Wins Kazakh Presidential Vote With 70%

Kazakh President and presidential candidate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks to the media after voting in Kazakhstan’s presidential elections at a polling station in Nur-Sultan on June 9, 2019.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO / AFP

 

Kazakhstan on Sunday elected interim leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the hand-picked successor of long-term former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, with around 70 per cent of the vote, exit polls showed.

The government-approved “Public Opinion” pollster gave Tokayev 70.13 per cent while his closest rival, opposition candidate Amirzhan Kosanov received 15.39 per cent.

Hundreds Arrested As Kazakhs Vote For First New Leader In Decades

 

Police in Kazakhstan arrested hundreds of opposition protesters Sunday at polls to elect the country’s first new president in 30 years following the departure of historic leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

His hand-picked successor Kassym Jomart-Tokayev, 66 was a shoo-in to win the vote contested by six other candidates.

But the day was marked by the biggest protests the Central Asian country has seen in three years.

AFP correspondents in Kazakhstan’s two main cities Nur-Sultan and Almaty witnessed hundreds of arrests.

Two AFP journalists were among those detained by police in the largest city Almaty where policebroke up a protest involving several hundred people.

One AFP correspondent was taken to a police station before being released while another had video equipment confiscated by police.

In Almaty, a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Petr Trotsenko, and Marius Fossum from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee rights NGO were also detained. Both were later released by police.

In Nur-Sultan, another Radio Free Europe journalist Saniya Toiken was held by police before being released.

Nazarbayev’s foreign-based political nemesis, fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov had called for protests in cities across the nation on Sunday and Monday.

Career diplomat

Career diplomat and interim president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 66, is running for the ruling party with backing from authoritarian Nazarbayev, who stepped down from the presidency in March.

The 78-year-old strongman’s departure shocked Kazakhs who had lived under his rule since Soviet times but he is still expected to call the shots in the oil-rich Central Asian state of 18 million people.

Tokayev’s rivals in the polls that opened at 0100 GMT included one low-key opposition figure, but none is widely known in Muslim-majority Kazakhstan.

By contrast Tokayev has won endorsements from pop stars and film actors, and appears to have the weight of the state machine behind him.

Both the president and his predecessor men voted early in the capital Nur-Sultan.

Tokayev told reporters Nazarbayev was “still in power in the capacity of chairman of the security council… and other capacities”.

Responding to concerns about police crackdowns on protests ahead of the vote, Tokayev said that he would be “building up a dialogue with all those who support the government and those who are against the government.”

Marat Sagyndykov, a 65-year-old retired civil servant said he had voted for Tokayev “in order to continue the course of the Leader of the Nation”, referring to Nazarbayev’s constitutionally designated status.

“I think in 30 years we have had some successes. There have been negatives, too, but they exist in all countries,” Sagyndykov told AFP.

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Aslan Sagutdinov, a video blogger who was detained last month for holding up a blank placard at a protest, told AFP by email that he did not intend to vote.

“If you vote in unfair elections you are allowing them to say they are fair,” said Sagutdinov, who lives in the northwestern town of Uralsk.

Tokayev’s campaign chief on Friday predicted victory but without the overwhelming backing enjoyed by Nazarbayev.

“I think Tokayev will receive the support of the majority of the population, but to aspire to the figures that Nursultan Nazarbayev received would be inappropriate,” campaign chief Maulen Ashimbayev said, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Four years ago Nazarbayev scored nearly 98 percent of a virtually uncontested vote where the official turnout was 95 percent.

No Kazakh vote has ever been recognised as fully democratic by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent more than 300 observers to monitor this election.

Transition ‘an illusion’

One of Tokayev’s first acts as interim president was to propose that the capital Astana — which Nazarbayev transformed from a steppe town into a million-strong city — be renamed “Nur-Sultan” in honour of his mentor.

The change went ahead without public consultation.

There is only one openly opposition candidate in the race, journalist Amirzhan Kosanov, who has criticised the government.

However, even his criticism has been vague, rather than directly attacking either Tokayev or Nazarbayev.

The buildup to the vote was marked by an intensifying crackdown on the opposition with courts sentencing protesters to short stays in jail and police raiding activists’ homes.

Human Rights Watch called the prospect of a genuine political transition “an illusion” and noted the persistence of rights abuses under Tokayev’s presidency.

“Kazakh authorities routinely break up peaceful protests, forcibly round up participants … and sanction them with warnings, fines, and short-term imprisonment,” the watchdog said.

AFP

Kazakh President Resigns After Almost 29 Years In Office

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 16, 2016 Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev attends a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders summit at the Ala-Archa state residence in Bishkek. Vyacheslav OSELEDKO / AFP

 

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his shock resignation on Tuesday, 29 years after taking office.

“I have taken the decision to refuse the mandate of the presidency,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Nazarbayev came to power in oil-rich Kazakhstan when it was still a Soviet republic and has never indicated a successor.

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The move comes on the back of growing social discontent and an economy still recovering from an oil price plunge in 2014.

The announcement also comes just weeks after the ageing strongman dismissed the country’s government.

Nazarbayev will enjoy significant policy-making powers following his resignation thanks to his constitutional status as “Leader of the Nation”.

He also became lifelong head of the country’s security council last year.

Nazarbayev, who won a 2015 election with almost 98 percent of the vote, was widely expected to seek another term in 2020.

AFP

[UPDATED] 52 People Killed In Kazakhstan Bus Accident

Fifty-two people were killed Thursday when the bus they were travelling on caught fire in northwestern Kazakhstan, the emergency services ministry said in a statement.Fifty-two people were killed

“On January 18 at 10:30 am (0430 GMT), a bus caught fire. 55 passengers and two drivers were on board. Five passengers received medical assistance.

“The remainder were killed,” the ministry said, without elaborating on the cause of the fire.

All those who died are believed to be Uzbek nationals, an interior ministry official told Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency. Kazakh media reported they were migrant workers travelling to Russia.

Uzbekistan’s emergency services ministry said it had opened a hotline.

The vehicle was registered in Kazakhstan, emergency services ministry official Ruslan Imankulov told AFP. He said the fire spread very quickly.

Short Circuit Blamed

Regional emergency service officials initially blamed the fire on a short circuit and said the bus was overloaded, Interfax-Kazakstan news agency reported.

Ministry representative Imankulov did not confirm this however, telling AFP: “It’s too early to talk about the reasons for the fire.”

Panic broke out on board the bus, hindering evacuation, while survivors managed to climb through a door and window, Kazakh news site BNews reported.

Two of the survivors suffered burns to their hands, emergency services officials told AFP, while others suffered minor injuries.

The Kazakh emergency services ministry said it was travelling from the southern Kazakh town of Shymkent to the Russian city of Samara on the Volga river, a distance of almost 1,900 kilometres (1200 miles).
Video broadcasts by Russian and Kazakh media showed black smoke and flames billowing from the vehicle which had veered across a flat stretch of road carving through a snowy steppe. A photograph taken later showed the vehicle completely charred.

The ministry said the vehicle was a Hungarian-made Ikarus. These buses are still widely used in ex-Soviet nations, even though they are often decades old.

The accident is one of the deadliest in the last five years, with the worst toll in Afghanistan in 2016 when two buses collided with an oil tanker, killing at least 73 people.

The tragedy, which struck in the area around the city of Aktobe, highlights the high accident rate for passenger transport in the region.

In October last year, a Kazakh-registered bus with Uzbek passengers was hit by a train in Russia after breaking down on the tracks, killing 19 aboard the bus.

In 2015, 16 people, including three children, died in Kazakhstan when a minibus collided with a van on April 20, 2015.