Dozens of protesters, 12 police dead in protests in Kazakhstan

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Riot police march to block protesters during a demonstration in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Protesters denouncing the doubling of liquefied gas prices clash with police in Kazakhstan’s largest city and staged protests in a dozen other cities across the country. (AP Photo / Vladimir Tretyakov)

PA

Dozens of protesters and 12 police have died in protests of extraordinary violence in Kazakhstan that saw government buildings stormed and set on fire, authorities said Thursday. A policeman has been found beheaded in the escalating unrest that poses a growing challenge to the authoritarian regime in the Central Asian country.

After breaking into the presidential residence and mayor’s office in the country’s largest city on Wednesday, protesters continued to attempt to take other buildings overnight. “Dozens of attackers have been liquidated,” police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek told state news channel Khabar-24, using a common term to describe the killing of people believed to be extremists. Twelve police officers were killed in the unrest and 353 injured, according to city officials quoted by the channel.

While the president initially appeared to try to appease the protesters, he later pledged tough measures to quell the unrest, which he blamed on “terrorist groups,” and called for an alliance for help. military led by Russia. Airports in Almaty and two other cities were closed and internet service was severely interrupted for the second day on Thursday, blocking access to Kazakh news sites.

Tens of thousands of people, some reportedly carrying batons and shields, have taken to the streets in recent days in the worst protests the country has seen since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago. Although the protests started because of a near doubling in the prices of one type of vehicle fuel, their scale and rapid spread suggest that they reflect a wider discontent in the country which is under the domination of the same. left since independence.

A Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said Thursday morning it would send peacekeeping troops to Kazakhstan at Tokayev’s request.

The operation is the CSTO’s first military action – an indication that Kazakhstan’s neighbors, especially Russia, fear the unrest could spread.

Russia and Kazakhstan share a close relationship and a 7,600 kilometer (4,700 mile) border, much of which is along open steppes. Russia’s manned space launch facility, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, is located in Kazakhstan.

The size and functions of the peacekeeping force have not been specified. Russia has already started sending forces, according to the CSTO, which also includes Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But Kyrgyzstan’s presidential spokesman Erbol Sutanbaev said his country’s contingent must be approved by parliament and said troops would not take any action involving protesters.

Tokayev imposed a two-week state of emergency nationwide, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on religious services. It is a blow to the large Orthodox Christian population of Kazakhstan which celebrates Christmas on Friday.

Of the five Central Asian republics that gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is by far the largest and wealthiest, spanning an area the size of Western Europe and resting on colossal reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals. . In addition to its long border with Russia, it also shares one with China, and its oil and mineral wealth make it strategically and economically important.

But despite Kazakhstan’s natural wealth and a strong middle class, financial difficulties are widespread and dissatisfaction with poor living conditions is strong in parts of the country. Many Kazakhs also resent the domination of the ruling party, which holds more than 80% of seats in parliament.

The protests appear to have no identifiable leader or claim. Much of the anger displayed in recent days was not directed against Tokayev, but against Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first president who continued to wield enormous influence after his resignation in 2019. Protesters shouted “Shal ket ! (“Old man go”), an apparent reference to Nazarbayev, who dominated Kazakhstan politics and whose reign was marked by a moderate cult of personality.

After the protests spread to Nour-Sultan and Almaty, the government announced his resignation, but Tokayev said ministers would remain in office until a new cabinet was formed, making it uncertain whether resignations will have a significant impact.

At the start of the year, prices for fuel called liquefied petroleum gas roughly doubled as the government moved away from price controls as part of efforts to move to a market economy.

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