Kazakhstan president gives orders to shoot protesters ‘without warning’

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev calls demonstrators ‘terrorists’ and warns they will be ‘eliminated’

Joe Middleton
Friday 07 January 2022 16:18 GMT
Kazakh president asks for help from Collective Security Treaty as unrest continues
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Kazakhstan’s president has authorised security forces to “fire without warning”, as violent protests continued in the former Soviet nation.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the ongoing unrest on “terrorists” and said “20,000 bandits” had attacked the country’s main city, Almaty. The city has become the focal point of the protests which have erupted over the past few days, initially against fuel price hikes but morphed into wider calls for political reform in the oil-rich nation.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Tokayev dismissed calls for talks with the protesters made by some other countries as “nonsense”.

“Those who don’t surrender will be eliminated,” he warned.

Kazakh authorities reported on Friday that 26 protesters had been killed during the unrest, 18 have been injured and more than 3,000 people have been detained. A total of 18 law enforcement officers have also been reported killed. One officer, it was claimed, was beheaded.

Kazakhstan‘s security forces also appeared to be in control of the streets of the country’s main city on Friday morning, but fresh gunshots could be heard near the city’s central square and there were further reported skirmishes.

A building occupied by the Kazakh branch of the Mir broadcaster, funded by several former Soviet states, was set on fire, according to Russia’s state news agency Tass.

Mr Tokayev gave “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin who sent military units into the country as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a partnership between Russia and a collection of former Soviet states, including Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. Russia borders Kazakhstan.

Mr Putin has discussed the situation in the country in several phone calls with Mr Tokayev, Russian news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying on Friday.

The Russian president also spoke to leaders of other countries in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance on Thursday and Friday, agencies quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Russian troops and Kazakh law enforcement officers now control the airport in Almaty after it had been taken over by a group of protesters on Wednesday.

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest in Almaty
Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest in Almaty (AP)

Demonstrations began on Sunday as a response to a fuel price hike and the government responded on Thursday by announcing a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases.

But the protests have swelled into a broader political movement against the government and ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.

He stepped down as president three years ago but his family is widely believed to have retained power.

On Friday morning, Reuters correspondents saw armoured personal carriers and troops in the main square of Almaty.

Widespread unrest has been reported in a number of other cities across the vast country of 19 million people. The internet has been shut off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the violence.

The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization said its peacekeeping force from former Soviet states would number about 2,500 and would stay in Kazakhstan for a few days or weeks.

Mr Tokayev’s administration said the force was still arriving and had not been engaged in combat or the “elimination of militants”.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said she was following the developments with a “great worry,” while French president Emmanuel Macron called for de-escalation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his condolences to Tokayev over the “large-scale riot,” praising him for having “decisively taken strong measures at critical moments and quickly calming down the situation.”

“As a fraternal neighbour and a long-term strategic partner, China is willing to provide necessary support within its means to Kazakhstan to help it get over this difficult period,” Xi said.

The violence has been unprecedented in a country ruled firmly for decades by Mr Nazarbayev, who was the last Soviet-era Communist Party boss still in power in an ex-Soviet state when he passed the presidency on to Tokayev in 2019.

Mr Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.

Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s top producer of uranium.

The country also accounts for close to a fifth of global bitcoin “mining”, the electricity-intensive process of recording cryptocurrency transactions, and since the internet was shut down, computing power of bitcoin’s global network has fallen.

Additional reporting by agencies

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