Kazakhstan’s president said on Friday that a day after Russia sent troops to quell a nationwide insurgency, he had ordered his forces to be shot down to combat disturbances from bandits and militants.
Security forces took control of the streets of the main city of Almaty on Friday morning, but gunfire could still be heard after days of unrest in which dozens were killed and public buildings ransacked and set ablaze.
“Terrorists have not laid down their weapons, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them. The fight against them must be continued until the end. Anyone who does not surrender will be destroyed,” President Kasim-Jomart Tokayev said. Said address in a television.
“I have ordered law enforcement agencies and the military to shoot to kill without warning.” Tokayev has blamed foreign-trained terrorists for the worst violence in 30 years of the Central Asian state’s independence.
Russia’s defense ministry, quoted by Interfax, said more than 70 plans to bring Russian troops into Kazakhstan were underway round-the-clock, and they were now helping to control Almaty’s main airport, which was met with protesters on Thursday. was removed.
The demonstrations, which began as a reaction to the rise in fuel prices, have turned into a widespread movement against the government and former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 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 power in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital named after him.
The Interior Ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “eliminated” while 18 police and National Guard soldiers had been killed since the protests began, figures that were not updated since Thursday. State television reported more than 3,700 arrests.
On Friday morning, fresh gunshots could be heard near the main square in Almaty, where soldiers had fought with protesters throughout the day. Reuters correspondents saw armored private carriers and soldiers occupying the square.
A few hundred meters away, a body was lying in a heavily damaged civilian car. An ammunition shop was ransacked in another part of the city.
Widespread unrest has been reported in several other cities in the vast country of 19 million people. The internet has been shut down since Wednesday, making it difficult to ascertain the full extent of the violence.
Moscow’s rapid deployment demonstrated the Kremlin’s readiness to use force to maintain its influence in the former Soviet Union. The troops were sent under the umbrella of the Collective Security Treaty Organization which included Russia and five former Soviet allies. It said his force would number around 2,500 and that he would remain in Kazakhstan for a few days or weeks.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow “standing up to Kazakhstan and doing it as allies”.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was closely monitoring the Russian-led deployment. It will be watching for any human rights violations and “any action predating the seizure of Kazakh institutions”.
Tokayev’s administration stated that the Russians were not involved in the war or the “elimination of terrorists”.
Violence has been unprecedented in a country firmly ruled for decades by Nazarbayev, who was the previous Soviet-era Communist Party boss still in power in an ex-Soviet state, when he replaced Tokayev as the presidency in 2019. Had given.
Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard since the protests began. Tokayev has tried to distance himself from his predecessor by removing Nazarbayev and his nephew from security posts since the protests began.
Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s top producer of uranium.
Field operator Chevron said oil production at its top field, Tengiz, had plummeted on Thursday after some contractors disrupted train lines in support of the protest. Global oil prices have risen since the start of the conflict and the price of uranium has risen sharply.
The country accounts for about one-fifth of global bitcoin “mining”, the electricity-intensive process of recording cryptocurrency transactions, and Kazakhstan’s internet shutdown has eroded the computing power of bitcoin’s global network.