The Kazakh president has issued an order to kill Reuters protests


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Kazakh Police Block Street Leading To Official Accord Presidential Residence Following Protest Against Government, Following Authorities’ Decision To Abolish Liquefied Petroleum Gas Prices In Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan

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Written by Olzhas Auyezov

ALMATY (Reuters) – Security forces appeared to have recaptured the streets of the Kazakh capital on Friday after days of violence, and a Russian-backed president said he ordered his troops to shoot to kill to quell an uprising across the country.

The day after Moscow sent paratroopers to help quell the uprising, police patrolled the streets of Almaty strewn with rubble, although gunfire was still heard.

Dozens were killed and public buildings across Kazakhstan were looted and set on fire in the worst violence the former Soviet republic has experienced in 30 years of independence.

Moscow said that more than 70 planes were transporting Russian troops to Kazakhstan, and that they are now helping to control the main airport in Almaty, which was again occupied by protesters on Thursday.

The uprising sparked Moscow’s military intervention at a time of high tensions in East-West relations as Russia and the United States prepare for talks next week on the Ukrainian crisis.

Kazakh President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev blamed the riots on foreign-trained terrorists for failing to provide evidence.

The militants have not laid down their weapons, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them, Tokayev (68) said in a televised address.

“Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed. I have given orders to law enforcement and the army to shoot to kill, without warning.”

The demonstrations began in response to rising fuel prices, but grew into a broad movement against the government and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, 81, was the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state until he handed over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019. His family is believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, a purpose-built capital named after him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation with Tokayev in several telephone conversations during the crisis, the Kremlin said on Friday.

SCARED

Protesters in Almaty appear to come mainly from poor suburbs of the city or surrounding towns and villages. The violence shocked urban Kazakhs, who used to compare their country to its more repressive and unstable former Soviet Central Asian neighbors.

“At night when we hear explosions, I’m scared,” a woman named Kuralai told Reuters. “It hurts to know that young people are dying. This is clearly planned … our government has probably relaxed somewhat.”

In a country where scarce political opposition is tolerated, no high-ranking protest leader has emerged to make any formal demands.

One man who attended the first night of the protest and did not want to be identified said that most of those who initially showed up wanted to “spontaneously show solidarity” before 100-200 “aggressive young men” started throwing stones at police .

The interior ministry said 26 armed criminals had been “liquidated”, while 18 members of the police and the National Guard had been killed. These figures do not appear to have been updated since Thursday.

State TV reported more than 3,800 arrests.

A new shooting could be heard Friday near the main square in Almaty, where troops were fighting protesters on Thursday. Armored personnel carriers and troops occupied the square.

TRAITORS

Pro-government politician Jermuhamet Yertisbayev, speaking on state television, suggested that there were traitors in the ranks of Kazakhstan’s security forces.

He said security forces were ordered to leave Almaty airport before militants occupied it, and that the National Security Committee building was left undefended, allowing protesters access to weapons.

Riots have also been reported in other cities, but the internet has been off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the extent of the violence.

In Aktau, a city on the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan, about 500 protesters gathered peacefully in front of a government building on Friday to call for Tokayev’s resignation, the witness told Reuters.

State television said more than 60 people, including civilians, police and the army, had been injured in the southern city of Shymkent since the unrest began, adding that the situation there was calm on Friday.

RUSSIAN INFLUENCE

Moscow’s rapid deployment showed Putin’s willingness to use force to maintain influence in the former Soviet Union, at a time when it also upset the West by hoarding troops near Ukraine, whose Crimean peninsula was occupied by Russia in 2014.

The mission is under the umbrella of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which consists of Russia and five former Soviet allies. Moscow announced that its forces will number around 2,500.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was monitoring Russian troops for any “actions that could be a predictor for the occupation of Kazakhstan’s institutions.”

The Tokaj administration said that the Russians did not take part in the fighting or “elimination of the militants”.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker in exile and minister who has opposed the government, told Reuters that the West must oppose Russia’s moves or watch Putin “methodically impose his program – the recreation of a structure like the Soviet Union”.

Kazakhstan’s other big neighbor, China, backed Tokay. State television said President Xi Jinping told him that Beijing was opposed to any use of force to destabilize Kazakhstan.

Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard from since the protest began. Tokayev removed Nazarbayev and his nephew from safety on Wednesday.

Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s largest uranium digger. Global oil prices rose on Friday, fueled by supply concerns. [MKTS/GLOB]



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