Almaty, Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan’s president on Friday rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of, vowing to destroy the “armed bandits” and allowing his forces to shoot to kill without warning. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said earlier that order had for the most part been restored across the country, after this week’s protests against fuel prices turned into widespread violence, especially in the large city of the country, Almaty.
“Terrorists continue to damage property (…) and use weapons against civilians. I ordered the security forces to shoot to kill without warning,” Tokayev said in his statement. third televised address to the nation this week.
He ridiculed calls by Western countries to hold negotiations with protesters as “dumb”, vowing not to speak to “criminals and murderers”.
“We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, local and foreign. With bandits and terrorists. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly,” the president said.
Long considered one of the most stable ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan faces its challenges.. Protesters stormed government buildings in Almaty on Wednesday and fought battles with police and military, with officials claiming 748 security officers were injured and 18 killed.
Tokayev said Almaty was attacked by “20,000 bandits” with a “clear plan of attack, coordination of actions and high combat readiness”.
He addressed his “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Poutin, after the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) dominated by Moscow. to help soothe unrest.
The Interior Ministry said on Friday that security forces had taken all regions of the country “under enhanced protection” and that 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and 18 injured in the unrest.
Mary Ilyushina of CBS News in Moscow said videos posted on social media showed continued clashes in Almaty on Friday. Local media said government sites were surrounded by military forces, who fired in the air to keep protesters at bay. Several local outlets reported that bodies were piling up in the city center and being slowly taken away by authorities.
Tokayev earlier declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for help from the CSTO, which includes five other states in the former Soviet Union, to fight what he called “terrorist groups” which have “received extensive training abroad”.
The first units of Russian forces arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed, after Tokayev appealed for help on Wednesday. This is the alliance’s first major joint action since its creation in 1999.
Russia has said it sees the unrest as “an externally inspired attempt to undermine the security and integrity” of Kazakhstan.
The Interior Ministry said Thursday it had detained around 2,300 people.
Authorities said more than 1,000 people were injured in the unrest, with nearly 400 admitted to hospital and more than 60 in intensive care.
The protests have spread across the country by 19 million people this week, outraged by the increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) over the New Year, which is used to power many cars around the country.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Almaty and the western province of Mangystau, claiming the price hike was unfair given the vast energy reserves of Kazakhstan’s oil and gas exporter.
The full picture of chaos has often been blurred, with widespread disruption in communications, including cell phone signals, online messaging being blocked, and Internet shutdowns for hours on end.
The protests are the biggest threat to date to the regime established by the founding president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned in 2019 and chose Tokayev as his successor.
Tokayev tried to avoid further unrest by announcing the government’s resignation early Wednesday, but protests continued.
Authorities declared a nationwide state of emergency until January 19, with curfews, movement restrictions and bans on mass gatherings.
The government made another concession Thursday, setting new fuel price limits for six months, saying “urgent” measures were needed “to stabilize the socio-economic situation.”
Much of the anger seemed to be directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 years old and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing power to Tokayev.
Many protesters shouted “Old Man Out!” in reference to Nazarbayev and a statue of the ex-leader was demolished in the southern town of Taldykorgan.
Western countries have called for restraint on all sides, US State Department spokesman Ned Price warning Russian troops in Kazakhstan against taking control of the country’s institutions.
“The United States and quite frankly the world will monitor any human rights violations,” Price said.