Kazakhstan's strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Saturday called for prosecutions against those to blame for the bursting of a dam that unleashed massive flooding and killed 35 people, AFP reported.
Torrential rains and early melting snow triggered the bursting of the reservoir dam outside the village of Kyzyl-Agash in the region of Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty. The ensuing floodwaters left hundreds of homes in ruins.
Speaking at a meeting with top officials including Prime Minister Karim Massimov in the Kazakh capital Astana, Nazarbayev said the death toll had risen to 35 from 30 overnight, state news agency Kazinform said.
"The general prosecutors or the interior ministry should open a criminal probe against the owner of the reservoir. It should be made responsible for the death of so many people," he said, according to Kazinform.
He told the security services to "carry out a thorough investigation and to bring the guilty to justice if the disaster was the result of negligence and the failure to carry out the necessary repair work to maintain the facility."
Kazakh media reports have said the reservoir is privately-owned but further details on its status were not immediately available.
Nazarbayev said a state commission looking into the causes of the disaster had until Tuesday to come up with an explanation for what happened.
The president noted that while recent earthquakes in Chile and Turkey could not have been prevented, the failure to check the safety of the dam and give sufficient warning for full evacuation "needs to be seen as a crime".
A thousand people were evacuated from Kyzyl-Agash, which normally has a population of 2,500, while a similar number were also removed from neighbouring settlements, the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency said.
A second incident in the nearby settlement of Karatalsky resulted in the entire dam being washed away, officials said, forcing the evacuation of a village of 820 people.
The wealthiest of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Kazakhstan has sought to promote a glitzy image to foreign investors in recent years as a booming modern nation, rich in natural resources.
But like other ex-Soviet countries, it has struggled to maintain its ageing infrastructure and has been hit by a series of disasters in recent years as a result.
Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, before which he was its top Communist Party official, and shows little sign of ceding power.