Kazakhstan protesters seize Almaty airport amid unrest over fuel price rise

State of emergency declared as unrest continues for a fourth day in the central Asian nation

Rory Sullivan
Wednesday 05 January 2022 18:32 GMT
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Violent protests have rocked the city of Almaty and others in Kazakhstan

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Protesters have reportedly seized control of the airport in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty as the country reels from violent unrest that started over fuel price rises and has led to the resignation of the government and a state of emergency being declared.

The protesters stormed the airport late on Wednesday, according to sources and local media outlets, after they targeted public buildings in Almaty including the presidential residence and mayor’s office that were set ablaze in the fourth day of rallies.

Kazakh officials said eight police and troops had been killed in the violence and more than 300 people injured across the country.

All flights to and from Almaty were temporarily cancelled, a source told Reuters.

In an attempt to quell the disturbance, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he had taken over as head of the country’s powerful Security Council from former ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev, and promised to act with “maximum toughness” over the unrest.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Tokayev said he had accepted the government’s resignation, a day after a state of emergency was announced in Almaty and the western Mangystau region until 19 January. This has been extended to include the capital Nur-Sultan.

Such protests are extremely rare in the former Soviet state, and the dissention has been described as the most significant since the country gained since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

A spokesperson for the Kremlin said on Wednesday that it was important there was no foreign interference in Kazakhstan, adding that Russia was monitoring the situation there closely and expected things to return to normal as soon as possible.

The White House urged calm and restraint in reaction to the protests while its press secretary Jen Psaki said Russian accusations that the US had instigated the unrest was “absolutely false”.

The protests began on Sunday in response to a steep rise in the cost of liquid petroleum gas, caused by the authorities’ decision to lift price caps.

The first demonstrations took place in Zhanaozen, an oil town in the western Mangistau province, before spreading to Almaty, where the public backlash escalated on Tuesday.

Although initially aimed at the hike in fuel prices, demonstrators have also demanded a rise in living standards and have called for Mr Nazarbayev, who still controls many levers of state, to be removed from his position as “leader of the nation”.

In addition to taking control of the Security Council from the country’s former ruler, who stepped down in 2019, Mr Tokayev also removed his nephew from his post as No 2 at the State Security Committee, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

It was unclear if this would satisfy the protesters, some of whom were heard chanting "Old man, go away!", a traditional anti-Nazarbayev slogan.

Mr Tokayev has also tried to mollify the public by promising to lower gas prices – which had roughly doubled to 120 tenge (20p) per litre – and regulate the cost of other “socially important” goods. Amid the unrest Tuesday evening, the government announced it was restoring a price cap of 50 tenge per litre, or less than half the market price, in Mangystau where the protests were focused.

Nevertheless, the president’s actions have failed to stopped the clashes, with videos posted online showing violent altercations between protesters and security forces continuing on Wednesday.

Reports suggest police have used stun grenades and teargas in a bid to break up the protests. But demonstrators armed with metal bars and clubs still managed to enter the mayor of Almaty’s office on Wednesday, according to the local news outlet Zakon.kz.

So far, 200 people have been arrested in the demonstrations, the interior ministry said.

Officials and leaders in Kazakhstan have blamed the wave of protests on “extremists” and outside forces.

Almaty’s chief of police claimed that “extremists and radicals” had injured 500 civilians and destroyed hundreds of businesses.

Agencies have contributed to this report

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