Dozens dead in unrest in Kazakhstan


Security forces killed dozens of protesters and 12 police officers died in extremely violent protests in Kazakhstan that saw government buildings stormed and set on fire, authorities said.

A policeman has been found beheaded in the escalating unrest that poses a growing challenge to the authoritarian regime in the Central Asian country.

Despite the harsh response from the authorities, protesters again took to the streets of Almaty, the country’s largest city, a day after breaking into the presidential residence and the mayor’s office.

Police were out in force again, including in the reportedly quiet capital Nour-Sultan, and Russian troops were on their way.

Riot police stand ready to arrest protesters during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan (Vladimir Tretyakov / AP)

Russian news service Sputnik reported that shots were fired as police surrounded a group of around 200 protesters in the city.

So far, 2,000 people have been arrested, the interior ministry said.

In Wednesday’s unrest, “dozens of attackers were liquidated,” police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek told state news channel Khabar-24, using a common term to describe the attacker. murder of people considered extremists by the police.

Twelve police officers were killed in the unrest and 353 injured, according to city officials quoted by the channel.

Tens of thousands of people, some reportedly carrying batons and shields, have taken to the streets in recent days in the worst protests the country has seen since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago.

Although the protests began because of a near doubling in the prices of one type of vehicle fuel, their scale and rapid spread suggests that they reflect wider discontent in the country which is under the rule of the same. left since independence.

The government on Thursday announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on increasing utility tariffs – an attempt to address the economic problems that have catalyzed the protests, although it is not clear what effect, if any, the measures would have.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev hesitated between attempts to appease the demonstrators, in particular by accepting the resignation of his government, and by promising tough measures to appease the unrest, which he blamed on “terrorist gangs”.

Smoke rises from town hall during protest in Almaty
Smoke rises from City Hall during a protest in Almaty (Yan Blagov / AP)

Concerns about the possibility of a wider crackdown on the horizon have increased after calling for help from a Russian-led military alliance.

Serious interruptions in Internet service also raised concerns and made it difficult, if not impossible, to disseminate information about what was happening in Kazakhstan.

In other apparent attempts to cordon off the country, airports in Almaty and another city have also been closed.

The military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said Thursday morning that it would send peacekeeping troops to Kazakhstan at Tokayev’s request.

The operation is the CSTO’s first military action – an indication that Kazakhstan’s neighbors, especially Russia, fear the unrest could spread.

Russia and Kazakhstan share a close relationship and a 7,600 kilometer (4,700 mile) border, much of it along open steppes.

Russia’s manned space launch facility, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, is located in Kazakhstan.

The size and functions of the peacekeeping force have not been specified.

Riot police on the streets of Almaty Kazakhstan
Riot police in the streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan (Vladimir Tretyakov / AP)

Russia has already started sending forces, according to the CSTO, which also includes Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

But Kyrgyzstan’s presidential spokesman Erbol Sutanbaev said his country’s contingent must be approved by parliament and said troops would not take any action involving protesters.

It was not immediately clear whether Russian forces had arrived in Kazakhstan.

The unrest is also expected to cause great concern in China.

Kazakhstan shares a 1,800 kilometer (1,000 mile) long border with China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing has launched an all-out campaign to quell separatist sentiment among minority Muslim groups who share cultural, religious and linguistic ties with the peoples of Central Asia.

However, during a daily briefing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin appeared to rule out any possibility that China would get involved in the current crisis, in accordance with the strict official policy of non-intervention. from Beijing.

“What is happening in Kazakhstan is the internal affair of the country (and) we believe the Kazakh authorities can solve the problem properly,” he said.

Mr Tokayev imposed a two-week state of emergency nationwide, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on religious services.

Russian peacekeepers military vehicles wait to be transported to Russian military planes at an airfield outside Moscow on their way to Kazakhstan
Russian peacekeepers’ military vehicles wait to be transported to Russian military planes at an airfield outside Moscow on their way to Kazakhstan (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

It is a blow to the large Orthodox Christian population of Kazakhstan, which celebrates Christmas on Friday.

Of the five Central Asian republics that gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is by far the largest and wealthiest, spanning an area the size of Western Europe and resting on colossal reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals. .

In addition to its long border with Russia, it also shares one with China, and its oil and mineral wealth make it strategically and economically important.

But despite Kazakhstan’s natural wealth and a strong middle class, financial difficulties are widespread and dissatisfaction with poor living conditions is strong in parts of the country.

Many Kazakhs also resent the domination of the ruling party, which holds more than 80% of seats in parliament.

The protests appear to have no identifiable leader or claim.

Much of the anger displayed in recent days was not directed against Mr Tokayev, but against Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first president who continued to wield enormous influence after his resignation in 2019.

Riot police block protesters during protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Riot police block protesters during a demonstration in Almaty, Kazakhstan (Vladimir Tretyakov / AP)

The protesters shouted “Shal ket! (“Old man go”), an apparent reference to Mr. Nazarbayev, who dominated Kazakh politics and whose reign was marked by a moderate cult of personality.

At the start of the year, prices for fuel called liquefied petroleum gas roughly doubled as the government moved away from price controls as part of efforts to move to a market economy.

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