By Alexander Bogatik
ASTANA -- The Kazakhstani government is conducting a major effort, including new regulations and stepped-up security measures, to safeguard the January 29-February 8 Winter Universiade 2017 in Almaty, officials say.
The Universiade is an international competition that takes place every two years for student-athletes aged 17 to 28. Two thousand competitors from 55 countries will participate this year, according to the Winter Universiade 2017 website.
Kazakhstan is expecting about 30,000 foreign spectators, the organisers said.
"The large number of people at the stadiums, including foreign guests, increases the risk of ... terrorist attacks," Andrei Volobuyev, an employee at an Almaty travel agency, told Caravanserai. "Law enforcement agencies will take security measures that are unprecedented for our country."
Kazakhstan was rocked by multi-fatality terrorist attacks in Aktobe and Almaty last summer.
According to local media, 11,000 employees working at the Universiade facilities, including 3,000 volunteers, underwent background checks for complicity or affiliation with terrorist organisations.
"During the past few days, the police checked facilities for the Universiade for the presence of explosive devices," a source at Almaty city hall told Caravanserai December 26.
Workers will install 100 concrete blocks around Universiade facilities to thwart truck bombings and other terrorist acts, Almaty Deputy Police Chief Joldasbek Almashev said in December, according to khabar.kz.
More than 7,000 police will patrol Almaty during the tournament, according to the same khabar.kz report.
"It is, of course, very hard to calculate all the risks, but the government is taking the most decisive measures it can to eliminate terrorist attacks," Altona Kortyukova of Almaty, one of the 3,000 volunteers helping to run the event, told Caravanserai. "Volunteers have also been trained in these matters, and they know what to do in case of any unforeseen occurrences."
Authorities have also held counter-terrorism drills at the Universiade facilities, according to the city's counter-terrorism headquarters. The goal of the exercises is to hone co-operation skills in the event a terrorist threat arises, officials say.
"Our area of the city is considered quite safe," Almaty resident Berik Tashkayev told Caravanserai. "But before the Universiade, we have been seeing police on the street more often. They held counter-terrorism exercises here in December."
"We hope ... no terrorist attacks will cast a pall over this celebration," he said.
To ensure teamwork in fighting terrorism, a Prosecutor General's Office representative and the leaders of various law enforcement and security agencies conferred in Almaty December 21 with officials from city hall and from the Universiade, according to a statement from the Prosecutor General's Office.
Authorities have compiled a map of Almaty showing crime density per neighbourhood to help prevent problems from arising at the Universiade, the Prosecutor General's representative, Sabit Nurlybay, said at the meeting.
"[We] drew attention to the need to adopt ... crime reduction measures, especially in Medeu and Alatau districts, where the Universiade facilities are situated," the Prosecutor General's Office statement said.
"The police used the crime map to devise travel routes for participants and guests at the upcoming Universiade," Khabar TV reported.
Meanwhile, the government is encouraging citizens to keep an eye out for suspicious activities and is offering cash incentives for reporting crimes and plots to the authorities.
On January 1, a government resolution on paying out rewards for information that helps prevent terrorist attacks took effect, according to the National Security Committee (KNB).
The resolution, which Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev signed last November 9, authorises rewards of about 1.7 million to 2.2 million KZT (US $5,100 to US $6,800) depending on the gravity of the crime prevented, according to the KNB.