MOSCOW — A Russia-led military alliance said Thursday that it will dispatch peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan after the country’s president asked for help in controlling protests that escalated into violence, including the seizure and setting afire of government buildings.
Protesters in Kazakhstan’s largest city stormed the presidential residence and the mayor’s office Wednesday and set both on fire, according to news reports, as demonstrations sparked by a rise in fuel prices escalated sharply in the Central Asian nation.
Some police officers fired upon some demonstrators at an Almaty residence before fleeing. In recent days they have been clashing with protestors, firing water cannons and tear gas in freezing conditions, before fleeing.
According to the Kazakh Interior Ministry, eight officers of police and members of national guard were killed and over 300 others were hurt in unrest. There were no figures available on the civilian casualties.
President Kassym Jomart Tokayev appealed for help to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (a Moscow-based coalition of six ex-Soviet countries). Hours later, the CSTO’s council approved sending an unspecified number of peacekeepers, said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the council’s chairman.
Tokayev previously pledged that they would take tough measures to stop the unrest. Tokayev declared an emergency of two weeks for all of Kazakhstan, expanding the state of emergency that was announced earlier for the capital city of Nur-Sultan.
As a result of the unrest, government officials resigned. Late in the afternoon, Kazakh news websites became unaccessible. Netblocks, a global monitoring organization, stated that the country had experienced an all-encompassing internet blackout. According to Tass, the Russian news agency Tass, internet access had been restored in Almaty on Thursday morning.
Although protests started over the near-doubling of price for a type, liquefied Petroleum Gas that’s widely used in vehicle fuel, their rapid spread and size suggested that they reflect greater discontent with the country under the ruling of the same party since independence from Soviet Union in 1991.
Tokayev claimed the unrest was led by “terrorist bands” that had received help from unspecified other countries. He also said rioters had seized five airliners in an assault on Almaty’s airport, but the deputy mayor later said the airport had been cleared of marauders and was working normally.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the globe. It borders Russia to Russia’s north and China the east. Kazakhstan has vast oil reserves which are strategically and economically crucial. Even with all its mineral riches and reserves, some areas of Kazakhstan are still unhappy about the poor living standards. Many Kazakhs are also unhappy with the rule of the ruling party which controls more than 80% the parliament seats.
After thousands of protestors had gathered in front of the Almaty presidential residence, Tass said that the building was set ablaze and that some people were trying to enter. The report was filed in Kazakhstan and states that police ran from the house after opening fire on protesters.
According to Kazakh media reports, many demonstrators who came together at the mayoral office wore clubs and shields. Later, Tass stated that the building had been set on fire.
According to the broadcaster, protesters also entered the Almaty office and destroyed equipment of Russia’s Mir radio and television company. The broadcaster later said that the crowd entered the Almaty office of the Kazakh nation broadcaster.
Protests started Sunday in Zhanaozen in western China. This is a place where the government was angry after a strike of oil workers that took place in 2011. Police had fatally shot 15 protestors. The protests spread throughout the country over the next few days and large demonstrations broke out Tuesday in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and the ex-capital.
Protests seem to lack a leader or demand. Many of the demonstrators shouted “old man go,” an apparent reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first president who continued to wield enormous influence after his 2019 resignation.
In an earlier televised statement to the nation, Tokayev said that “we intend to act with maximum severity regarding law-breakers.”
He promised political reforms, and he announced that he would assume the presidency of the National Security Council. It is possible that the latter announcement could be significant as Nazarbayev was President from 1991 to 2019.
Nazarbayev dominated Kazakhstan’s politics and his rule was marked by a moderate cult of personality. Critics believe he created a clan system of government.
The government was forced to resign after demonstrations reached Almaty and Nur-Sultan. However, Tokayev stated that the ministers would remain in their positions until a new Cabinet is created. It’s not clear if the resignations will make a significant impact.
Prices for LPG, a gas that is used to make gasoline, nearly doubled at the beginning of this year as government began to remove price controls in an effort to shift to a market economy.