Kazakhstan’s president says he has ordered security personnel to open fire on “terrorists” without warning amid extremely violent protests in the former Soviet nation.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said up to 20,000 “bandits” had attacked the financial capital Almaty and were destroying state property, adding he had authorised the use of lethal force against them.
In a televised address to the nation, he said: “Those who don’t surrender will be eliminated.”
The president has called on a Russia-led military alliance for help.
He said peacekeeping forces had arrived in Kazakhstan from Russia and neighbouring states on request and would temporarily remain in the country to ensure security.
Troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation – an alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – have been deployed.
Around 2,500 peacekeepers are being sent – but that could increase, the alliance’s general secretary told Russia’s RIA news agency.
In his address, Mr Tokayev also thanked President Vladimir Putin as well as the leaders of China, Uzbekistan and Turkey for their assistance in quelling the uprising.
He criticised calls for talks with the protesters made by some other countries as “nonsense”, adding: “What negotiations can be held with criminals, murderers?”
Security forces decapitated
As of Friday, 26 protesters had been killed during the unrest, while 18 were wounded and more than 3,000 people had been detained, the country’s interior ministry reported.
Two members of the security forces were decapitated and are among at least 18 who have died, authorities said, while more than 700 sustained injuries.
Kazakhstan has been enduring the most violent street protests since the country gained independence three decades ago.
Unrest morphed after price cap on gas removed
The unrest was sparked in the oil-producing western province of Mangistau on Sunday after a cap on liquified petroleum gas – which many people use to power their cars – was removed, causing prices to double.
The president reversed the hike but the unrest which has lasted for days has morphed into a broader set of grievances.
The mayor’s office and presidential palace were set alight in Almaty on Wednesday, and the airport was temporarily seized, with ongoing battles between masses of protesters and police.
Two-week state of emergency
A two-week state of emergency has been declared nationwide, curfews installed, and the entire government has resigned in Kazakhstan’s most dramatic upheaval since the fall of the Soviet Union.
There were new battles reported on Thursday evening in Almaty’s main square, occupied during the day by hundreds of troops and protesters.
Kazakh officials insisted that troops will not be fighting protesters – instead focusing on guarding government institutions.
Mr Tokayev declared on Friday that constitutional order was “mainly restored in all regions of the country” and that “local authorities are in control of the situation”.
But he added that “terrorists are still using weapons and are damaging people’s property” and that “counter-terrorist actions” should be continued.
Normality resumes in some parts
Clashes were still being reported in Almaty on Friday morning.
However, the Almaty airport, which had been closed after protesters earlier stormed and seized it, is back under the control of Kazakh law enforcement and CSTO peacekeepers, Russian defence ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said.
The airport will remain closed until Friday evening, local TV station Khabar 24 reported.
Normality resumed in other parts of the country, with access to the internet being partially restored in the capital of Nur-Sultan.
Demonstrators angry at former leader
Much of the protesters’ anger is directed at former long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who quit in 2019 but remains powerful and whose family is believed to control much of the economy.
The chant of “Old man, go away!” has been heard in videos, such as one from Aqtobe, in the country’s west, where police fired water cannon and stun grenades.