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Violent unrest in Kazakhstan that began with peaceful protests in early January over energy prices has left 225 people dead, authorities said Saturday, in a dramatic increase on previous tolls.
The demonstrations spiralled into unprecedented clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the energy-rich ex-Soviet state, prompting President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to declare a state of emergency and call in help from a Russian-led military bloc.
"During the state of emergency, the bodies of 225 people were delivered to morgues, of which 19 were law enforcement officers and military personnel," Serik Shalabayev, a representative of the state prosecutor, said at a briefing Saturday.
Others were "armed bandits who participated in terrorist attacks", Shalabayev added.
"Unfortunately, civilians have also become victims of acts of terrorism."
Kazakhstan had previously acknowledged fewer than 50 fatalities -- 26 "armed criminals" and 18 security officers in the conflict that exposed infighting at the very top of the government.
A higher death toll of 164 that appeared on an official Telegram channel last week was quickly retracted.
Asel Artakshinova, a spokeswoman for the health ministry, said that more than 2,600 people had sought treatment at hospitals, with 67 currently in a serious condition.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have blamed the violence on bandits and international "terrorists" that they said hijacked the protests that saw the epicentre of unrest move from the west to the country's largest city Almaty.
They have not provided evidence about who the alleged foreign bandits and terrorists were.
The protests have been the biggest threat so far to the regime established by Kazakhstan's founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 and hand-picked Tokayev as his successor.
- Nazarbayev relatives sacked -
Much of the popular anger has appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power.
Many protesters shouted "Old Man Out!" in reference to Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan.
Tokayev this week launched an unprecedented attack on Nazarbayev, saying his mentor had failed to share the Central Asian country's vast wealth with ordinary Kazakhs.
On Saturday, the sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna said two of Nazarbayev's relatives, Dimash Dosanov and Kairat Sharipbayev, had lost their jobs at the helm of energy companies.
The moves were made "in accordance with the decision of the board of directors", the fund said.
Sharipbayev, 58, is widely believed to be the husband of Nazarbayev's oldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. He was in charge of the national gas company QazaqGaz, formerly KazTransGas.
Dosanov, 40, is the husband of Nazarbayev's youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, 41, and was the head of the national oil transporter KazTransOil.
The president has in part blamed QazaqGaz for the historic crisis, which started with a spike in prices for Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), a popular fuel, sparking peaceful protests at the start of January.
Troops from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization that helped calm the violence in the Central Asian country began a gradual withdrawal on Thursday.