© Reuters. PHOTOGRAPHY: Kazakh police block street leading to official Akorda presidential residence following anti-government protests following government decision to lift liquefied petroleum gas price caps in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
Written by Olzhas Auyezov
ALMATY (Reuters) – Security forces appear to have recaptured the streets of the Kazakh capital on Friday after days of violence, and a Russian-backed president has 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 debris, although gunfire was still heard.
Dozens were killed and public buildings across Kazakhstan were looted and set on fire in the worst violence in 30 years of independence.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the riots were blamed on trained terrorists.
The militants have not laid down their weapons, continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them, he said in a televised address.
“Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed. I have given orders to law enforcement agencies and the military to shoot to kill, without warning.”
Moscow said more than 70 planes were transporting Russian troops to Kazakhstan and that they were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, which was recaptured by protesters on Thursday.
Demonstrations that began in response to rising fuel prices have grown into a widespread movement against the government and former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/powerful-ex-leader-nazarbayev- is-main- target-kazakhs-anger-2022-01-05, 81, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.
He handed over the presidency to Tokayev three years ago, but his family is believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, a purpose-built capital that bears his name.
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 obviously planned … probably our government has relaxed somewhat.”
In a country where meager political opposition is tolerated, no high-ranking protest movement leaders have emerged to make any formal demands.
One man who attended the first night of the demonstration and did not want to be identified said most of those who initially showed up were there to “spontaneously express solidarity” before 100-200 “aggressive youths” started throwing stones at police .
He said he expected some opposition politicians to formulate demands, but in vain.
Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker in exile and a minister who has become an opponent of the government, said the West must oppose Russia’s move.
“If not, then Kazakhstan will turn into Belarus and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will methodically impose his program – the recreation of a structure like the Soviet Union,” Ablyazov told Reuters in Paris.
The interior ministry said 26 armed criminals had been “liquidated”, while 18 police officers and members of the National Guard had been killed, data that did not appear to have been updated since Thursday. State television reported more than 3,700 arrests.
New shootings could be heard near the main square in Almaty on Friday, where forces were fighting protesters throughout Thursday. Armored personnel carriers and troops occupied the square.
A few hundred yards away, a dead body lay in a wrecked civilian car. An ammunition store was looted in another part of the city.
Riots have been reported in other cities as well, but the internet has been disconnected since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the extent of the violence.
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 alarmed the West by amassing troops near Ukraine, whose Crimean peninsula Russia occupied in 2014.
The mission is under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which consists of Russia and five former Soviet allies. Moscow has said its forces will number about 2,500.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow was “working as the Allies should”.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was watching Russian troops for any “actions that could be a predictor of occupying Kazakhstan’s institutions.”
The Tokayev administration said the Russians were not engaged in fighting or “eliminating militants”.
Kazakhstan’s other big neighbor, China, backed Tokay. State television reported that President Xi Jinping had told him that Beijing was opposed to any use of force to destabilize Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev, who was the last Soviet-era Communist Party leader to still rule the former Soviet state when he handed over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019, has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.
Tokayev removes Nazarbayev and his nephew from safety posts on Wednesday.
The apparent return of calm to Almaty has helped Kazakh bonds regain some of the ground they lost in the unrest.
Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s largest uranium digger, and unrest has affected global commodity prices. [MKTS/GLOB]
Oil production at its largest field, Tengiz, was cut on Thursday by the field operator Chevron (NYSE 🙂 he said, while some contractors cut off railway lines in support of the protests.
Kazakhstan also accounts for nearly a fifth of global bitcoin “mining,” a high-power cryptocurrency recording process, and shutting down the Internet in Kazakhstan has reduced the computing power of the global bitcoin network. [nL4N2TM22L]