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Kazakhstan's president rejects calls for talks and tells forces to 'shoot to kill' without warning

The interior ministry said earlier that 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and 18 wounded in the unrest.

Security forces in Almaty. 6 January.
Security forces in Almaty. 6 January.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Jan 7th 2022, 11:00 AM

KAZAKHSTAN’S PRESIDENT has rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of unprecedented unrest, vowing to destroy “armed bandits” and authorising his forces to shoot to kill without warning.

He said earlier that order had mostly been restored across the country, after protests this week over fuel prices escalated into widespread violence, especially in main city Almaty.

“Terrorists continue to damage property… and use weapons against civilians. I have given the order to law enforcement to shoot to kill without warning,” Tokayev said in his third televised address to the nation this week.

He ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations as “nonsense”.

“We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. With bandits and terrorists. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly.”

Long seen as one the most stable of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan is facing its biggest crisis in decades.

Protesters stormed government buildings in Almaty on Wednesday and fought running battles with police and the military, with officials saying 748 security officers were wounded and 18 killed.

aktau-kazakhstan-6th-jan-2022-people-take-part-in-a-protest-protests-were-sparked-by-rising-fuel-prices-in-the-towns-of-zhanaozen-and-aktau-in-western-kazakhstan-on-2-january-and-spread-rapidly-a People take part in a protest in Aktau. 6 January. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Tokayev said Almaty had been attacked by “20,000 bandits” with a “clear plan of attack, coordination of actions and high combat readiness.”

He gave his “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sent troops to Kazakhstan to help quell the unrest.

 26 ‘armed criminals’ killed

The interior ministry said security forces had taken all the country’s regions “under increased protection” and that 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and 18 wounded in the unrest.

“Law enforcement forces are working hard. The constitutional order has been mainly restored in all regions,” Tokayev said in a statement after a meeting with top officials.

“Local authorities are monitoring the situation. But terrorists are still using weapons, causing damage to civilian property,” he said. “Therefore the counter-terrorist operation will continue until the total destruction of the militants.”

Tokayev confirmed that a peacekeeping force from the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) had arrived in Kazakhstan.

“This contingent arrived for a limited period of time to carry out mainly the functions of covering and ensuring the protection of strategic facilities,” the statement said.

It said a number of orders had been issue to “further stabilise the situation in the country” but did not provide further details.

aktau-kazakhstan-january-6-2022-people-gather-outside-a-sberbank-branch-in-the-night-of-january-6-internet-connection-was-lost-across-the-country-payment-systems-stopped-working-as-well-citiz On January 6, the internet dropped across the country, leading citizens queuing at working ATMs to withdraw cash. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The interior ministry said in a statement that 70 24-hour checkpoints had been set up across the country.

The police and armed forces, it said, were “protecting public order and objects of strategic importance, and clearing the streets.”

Tokayev had declared a nationwide state of emergency and appealed for help from the CSTO, which includes five other ex-Soviet states, to combat what he called “terrorist groups” that had “received extensive training abroad”.

Fighting had continued in Almaty yesterday, with an AFP correspondent hearing bursts of gunfire from the direction of the city’s main square.

2,300 detained

Local media reports said late yesterday that security forces had cleared demonstrators from the square and other key government buildings.

The first units of Russian forces from the Moscow-led peacekeeping force had arrived in Kazakhstan, the Russian defence ministry said, after Tokayev appealed for assistance on Wednesday.

It marked the alliance’s first major joint action since its founding in 1999.

Russia said it saw the unrest as “an attempt inspired from outside to undermine the security and integrity” of Kazakhstan.

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almaty-kazakhstan-6th-jan-2022-a-burnt-car-is-seen-outside-the-mayors-office-protests-were-sparked-by-rising-fuel-prices-in-the-towns-of-zhanaozen-and-aktau-in-western-kazakhstan-on-2-january-an The burnt office of the Almaty mayor. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The interior ministry said yesterday it had detained about 2,300 people.

Officials said more than 1,000 people had been wounded in the unrest, with nearly 400 admitted to hospital and 62 in intensive care.

Protests spread across the nation of 19 million this week in outrage over a New Year increase in prices for liquid petroleum gas (LPG), which is used to fuel many cars in the country.

Thousands took to the streets in Almaty and in the western province of Mangystau, saying the price rise was unfair given oil and gas exporter Kazakhstan’s vast energy reserves.

The full picture of the chaos was often unclear, with widespread disruptions to communications including mobile phone signals, the blocking of online messengers and hours-long internet shutdowns.

The protests are the biggest threat so far to the regime established by Kazakhstan’s founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 and hand-picked Tokayev as his successor.

Tokayev tried to head off further unrest by announcing the resignation of the cabinet early on Wednesday, but protests continued.

Authorities declared a nationwide state of emergency until 19 January, with curfews, restrictions on movements and bans on mass gatherings.

The government made another concession yesterday, setting new fuel price limits for six months, saying “urgent” measures were needed “to stabilise the socio-economic situation”.

Much of the anger appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing power to Tokayev.

Many protesters shouted “Old Man Out!” in reference to Nazarbayev and several witnesses confirmed to AFP that a statue of the ex-leader had been torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan.

Western countries have called for restraint on all sides, with US State Department spokesman Ned Price warning Russian troops in Kazakhstan against taking control of the country’s institutions.

“The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violation of human rights,” Price said.

© AFP 2022

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