Eight people died and dozens were hurt during clashes involving hundreds of villagers in Kazakhstan’s south on Friday, authorities said.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held an emergency government session Saturday where he said the situation was “under the control” of police and the national guard.
Interior Minister Yerlan Turgumbayev said “several dozen people were injured, eight died” in the clashes Friday in the Jambyl region, about three hours drive from Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty and close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Turgumbayev said 30 houses, 15 commercial properties and 23 cars were damaged in the clashes that he said saw 47 people detained.
Tokayev said the fighting occurred in a number of settlements in the Kordai district of Jambyl region, clashes and group fights between local residents took place.
“Unfortunately there are injuries and fatalities. I express my sincere condolences to the close ones of those who died,” Tokayev said.
Footage posted to social media late on Friday night showed scenes of young men, some armed with clubs, marching along the road of a village with buildings ablaze either side.
The conflict is widely believed to have pitted titular Kazakhs against minority Dungans, although Kazakhstan’s authorities have not commented on the origins of the fight.
A driver who works taking passengers from Kazakhstan’s border with Kyrgyzstan to the city of Almaty said that the Masanchi village at the centre of the conflict had been sealed off.
“It is calm. But you can’t get there now. The police and the army are there,” the driver called Bakytjan told AFP by telephone.
He said that the conflict had begun after a man from the Dungan minority ethnic group attacked an elderly Kazakh man.
Private news agency Kaztag cited Kusei Daurov, head of the Dungan association as saying that more than ten homes were burned by “young men that had arrived” in the village of Masanchi on Friday.
He also claimed that the attackers had fired shots at local residents in the comments reported late on Friday.
Kazakhstan’s authoritarian leadership prides itself on guaranteeing inter-ethnic harmony in a country where the foreign ministry says “over 100 ethnic groups are living in peace.”