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Kazakhstan President orders to shoot protesters ‘without warning’

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

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest in Almaty | AP

Kazakhstan’s president has authorized security forces to “fire without warning” as violent protests in the former Soviet republic continue.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the ongoing unrest on “terrorists,” claiming that “20,000 bandits” had attacked Almaty, the country’s capital. The city has become the epicenter of the protests that have erupted in recent days, initially in response to fuel price increases but morphing into broader calls for political reform in the oil-rich nation.

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

He warned: “Those who don’t surrender will be eliminated.”

According to Kazakh authorities, 26 protesters were killed, 18 were injured, and over 3,000 people were detained during the unrest. There have also been reports of 18 law enforcement officers being killed. According to reports, one officer was beheaded.

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

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

Mr. Tokayev expressed “special gratitude” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending military units into the country as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a partnership between Russia and a group of former Soviet states that includes Armenia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is bordered by Russia.

Mr Putin discussed the situation in the country with Mr Tokayev in several phone calls, Russian news agencies reported on Friday.

On Thursday and Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with leaders of other countries in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

After being taken over by a group of protesters on Wednesday, the airport in Almaty is now under the control of Russian troops and Kazakh law enforcement officers.

Protests began on Sunday in response to an increase in fuel prices, and the government responded on Thursday by announcing a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases.

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

He stepped down as president three years ago, but his family is widely believed to still wield power.

Reuters correspondents saw armoured personnel carriers and troops in Almaty’s main square on Friday morning.

There has been widespread unrest in a number of other cities across the vast country of 19 million people. Since Wednesday, the internet has been shut down, 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 around 2,500 people and would be stationed in Kazakhstan for a few days or weeks.

According to Mr. Tokayev’s administration, the force was still on its way and had not yet engaged in combat or “elimination of militants.”

The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed “great concern” about the developments, while French President Emmanuel Macron called for a de-escalation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping condoled with Tokayev over the “large-scale riot,” praising him for “decisively taking 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 is unprecedented in a country that has been firmly ruled for decades by Mr Nazarbayev, who was the last Soviet-era Communist Party boss still in power in an ex-Soviet state when he handed over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019.

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

Kazakhstan is a major oil producer as well as the world’s leading uranium producer.

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

AP

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