Leaders of a Moscow-led alliance of former Soviet states have agreed to send “peacekeeping forces” to Kazakhstan to help the country’s president regain control as violent clashes continued across the country after fuel price rises triggered widespread protests.
Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said early on Thursday that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – a military alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – would dispatch forces to “stabilise” the Central Asia country.
The announcement came after Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayevappealed to the bloc for help, describing protesters as “terrorists” and alleging the country had been the victim of “attacks” by foreign-trained gangs.
On Wednesday, demonstrators took over government buildings and reportedly stormed the airport in Almaty, the country’s commercial capital and largest city.
“Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalised, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits, therefore it is our duty … to take all possible actions to protect our state,” said Tokayev, in his second televised address in a matter of hours.
The call for intervention will give Russia’s president Vladimir Putin a decision to make, at a time when all eyes have been on a possible Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Images of police being overpowered by protesters are likely to cause alarm, as another country neighbouring Russia succumbs to political unrest. Kazakhstan is part of an economic union with Russia and the two countries share a long border.
There was no immediate response from the Kremlin, though MP Leonid Kalashnikov told Interfax: “If president Tokayev makes a request, we will be obligated to react”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, said it was important no foreign countries interfered in Kazakhstan.
On Wednesday evening, Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Facebook that after speaking with Tokayev, he was launching consultations within the leaders of CSTO countries.
There were further reports of violent clashes and shooting in Almaty and other cities, as well as unverified videos suggesting casualties among protesters.
Kazakh media outlets cited the interior ministry as saying 317 police and national guard servicemen were injured and eight killed “by the hands of a raging crowd”. There have been no reliable estimates of civilian casualties.
Earlier in the day, the Almaty mayor’s office was set on fire, with smoke and flames visible from several floors of the imposing building. Many flights were diverted or cancelled after the apparent storming of the airport. Kazakh media outlets reported authorities took the airport back under control after a firefight.
Video: Kazakh president’s home ablaze as protests escalate (PA Media)
In other cities, including Aktobe in the west of the country, crowds tried to storm government buildings. There were reports and videos of police cars set on fire and security vehicles seized by the crowd.
Tokayev accepted the resignation of the government on Wednesday morning and introduced a state of emergency in several provinces in an attempt to gain control of the situation. Later, the state of emergency was extended to the entire country.
Tokayev also announced that his predecessor and benefactor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, would step down as head of the security council.
Much of the anger has been directed at Nazarbayev, a former Soviet-era communist boss who became Kazakhstan’s first president and ruled until 2019 and who wielded immense power behind the scenes.
However, with the mix of concessions and threats failing to send the crowds home, Tokayev made the call for intervention. Earlier in the evening, Tokayev spoke to the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, who crushed a huge uprising with brutal force in 2019. Before calling Tokayev, Lukashenko spoke to Putin, the Belarusian news agency Belta reported.
The protests began in the west of the country at the weekend, after a sharp rise in fuel prices, but have spread quickly and taken Kazakhstan’s authorities and international observers by surprise.
“The authorities are trying everything to calm things down, with a mix of promises and threats, but so far it’s not working,” said Dosym Satpayev, an Almaty-based political analyst. “There will be imitations of dialogue but essentially the regime will respond with force, because they have no other tools.”
At times, authorities have shut down mobile internet and blocked access to messaging apps, and on Wednesday the internet went down across much of Kazakhstan. Authorities said army units had been brought into Almaty to restore order.
The trigger for protests in Kazakhstan was a sharp rise in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), used by many to power their cars, particularly in the west of the country. Protests began at the weekend in the oil city of Zhanaozen, where in December 2011 police fired on protesters, killing at least 16 people.
It soon became clear that the anger was not focused only on LPG prices, and a government announcement that the price would be fixed at a lower level has done nothing to quell the protest.
Instead, there is broader discontent with Tokayev, president since 2019, and Nazarbayev.
“Nazarbayev and his family have monopolised all sectors, from banking to roads to gas. These protests are about corruption,” said 55-year-old Zauresh Shekenova, who has been protesting in Zhanaozen since Sunday.
“It all started with the increase in gas prices but the real cause of the protests is poor living conditions of people, high prices, joblessness, corruption.”
Darkhan Sharipov, an activist from the civil society movement Wake Up, Kazakhstan, said: “People are sick of corruption and nepotism, and the authorities don’t listen to people … We want President Tokayev to carry out real political reforms, or to go away and hold fair elections.”
The five former Soviet Central Asian republics have been largely without protest in their three decades of independence, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, which has had several revolutions.
Kazakhstan has never held an election judged as free and fair by international observers. While it is clear there is widespread discontent, the cleansing of the political playing field over many years means there are no high-profile opposition figures around which a protest movement could unite, and the protests appear largely directionless.
“There are some local figures, but nobody who could unify forces across the country, though with time they could appear,” said Satpayev.
Source: Thanks msn.com