Kazakhstan’s president ordered security forces to shoot to kill anybody involved in unrest on Friday, paving the way for a significant escalation in the country’s anti-government rallies, which have turned violent.
Hundreds of people have been slain in the Central Asian nation’s worst public riots since it gained independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago. The protests began in response to a near-doubling of the price of a type of motor fuel but swiftly expanded across the country, indicating broader unhappiness with an authoritarian government.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev used harsh terminology in a televised speech to the nation, referring to those involved in the unrest as “terrorists,” “bandits,” and “militants” – though it is unclear how nonviolent protests gained traction and subsequently devolved into violence.
Tokayev added, “I have given law enforcement and the army the order to shoot to kill without warning.” “Those who refuse to submit will be wiped out.”
He also slammed certain countries’ requests for negotiations with the demonstrators, calling them “nonsense.” “What kind of bargaining can be done with criminals and murderers?” Tokayev enquired.
Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry announced on Friday that security forces had killed 26 demonstrators since the turmoil began on Wednesday. Another 18 individuals were injured, and almost 3,000 people were jailed. There were 18 officers killed and over 700 injured, according to reports.
The figures could not be independently verified, and it was unclear whether more people died in the ensuing chaos, which included protesters attacking government buildings and setting them on fire.
Internet connectivity has been badly hampered and occasionally restricted, and several airports, including one in Almaty, the country’s largest city, have been shuttered, making it difficult to acquire information about what’s going on within the country. Cellphone service has also been significantly hampered.
Tokayev has also requested assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is led by Russia, and troops began arriving on Thursday. Their engagement indicates that Kazakhstan’s neighbours, particularly Russia, are concerned that the turmoil may expand.
On Friday morning, more skirmishes were reported in Almaty. The building held by the Kazakh branch of the Mir broadcaster, which is supported by various former Soviet governments, was reported to be on fire by Russia’s state news agency Tass.
However, the Almaty airport, which had been attacked and occupied by demonstrators earlier, was returned to Kazakh law enforcement and CSTO forces on Friday, according to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov. According to local TV station Khabar 24, the airport will remain closed until Friday evening, citing airport representatives.
On Friday morning, Tokayev stated that “local authorities are in control of the situation,” implying that some peace had been restored. Nonetheless, he stated that “counter-terrorism efforts” must continue.
Kazakhstan, which spans an area the size of Western Europe and borders Russia and China, is militarily and economically significant due to its vast quantities of oil, natural gas, uranium, and precious metals. Despite this riches, there is widespread dissatisfaction with terrible living conditions in various sections of the country.
Tokayev has wavered between attempting to appease the demonstrators by imposing a 180-day price restriction on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate hikes and threatening punitive measures to put an end to the disturbance.
Concerns that a bigger crackdown could be on the way grew after Tokayev requested assistance from the CSTO alliance.
Officials in Kazakhstan have stated that troops from the alliance, which comprises several former Soviet countries, will not be attacking demonstrators, but will instead be tasked with defending government buildings. It was unclear whether the foreign forces deployed thus far were involved in any way in quelling the uprising.
Tokayev reiterated his claims that “foreign actors” and “independent media” were involved in inciting the unrest in his address to the nation.
He provided no evidence for his allegations, but former Soviet countries, most notably Russia and Belarus, have used similar rhetoric to quell huge anti-government protests in recent years.
According to Kazakh media, a total of 2,500 troops from the CSTO countries have arrived in Kazakhstan, with all of them being stationed in Almaty.
Life began to return to normal in other regions of the country. Internet connectivity has been partially restored in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital and rail activity have resumed across the country.
In his message to the nation, Tokayev stated that he has chosen to restore internet connectivity in specific areas of the country “for certain time intervals,” without specifying when, where, or for how long the internet will be restored.