MILAN (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday called for dialogue and justice to end the violent unrest in Kazakhstan, adding he was saddened by the news of the deaths in the country.

“I learned with sadness that there have been casualties during the protests that have erupted in recent days in Kazakhstan,” the Pope told hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square for his blessing and his speech of midday.

“I pray for them and for their families, and I hope that social harmony will be restored as soon as possible through the search for dialogue, justice and the common good,” said the Pope.

Kazakh authorities said on Sunday they had stabilized the situation across the country after the deadliest outbreak of violence in 30 years of independence, and that troops from a Russian-led military alliance were guarding “strategic facilities “.

Russian news agency Sputnik quoted the Kazakh health ministry as saying that a total of 164 people, including two children, had been killed in Kazakhstan over the past week.

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The protests started a week ago against rising fuel prices before exploding into a larger protest against the government.

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

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