Ex-Soviet states send forces to Kazakhstan to help quell unrest

ALMATY, Kazakhstan – A Russian-led security alliance sent forces to Kazakhstan to quell deadly violence amid reports that dozens of protesters and police have been killed in the unrest raging in the country.

On Thursday, after state buildings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, were burned, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Facebook that an unspecified number of peacekeepers would travel to Kazakhstan.

Russian state media agencies Interfax and Tass quoted a Almaty police spokesman as saying that dozens of rioters in the city had been “eliminated.”

Thirteen members of the security forces were killed in clashes with protesters in the city, Reuters reported, citing Kazakh state television.

Police and government officials were not immediately available to comment or provide further details on the reports.

More than 1,000 people have been injured in the protests since Sunday, the Health Ministry said Thursday, according to Tass. NBC News reached out to the ministry for confirmation.

Initially sparked by anger over rising fuel prices, the protests have quickly spread to host wider opposition to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, who retained significant power despite resigning in 2019 after rule for nearly three decades.

Nazarbayev, 81, has been widely seen as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, the specially built capital that bears his name. His family is believed to control much of the economy, the largest in Central Asia. He has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.

The Central Asian nation’s reputation for stability under Nazarbayev helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment in its oil and metals industries.

But a younger generation is demanding the liberalization that has been seen in other former satellite states of the Soviet Union. The protests are the worst in more than a decade in Kazakhstan, a country five times the size of France with a population of nearly 19 million people.

Seemingly trying to appease public anger, Tokayev fired Nazarbayev as head of the powerful Security Council on Wednesday and took over himself. He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and removed Nazarbayev’s nephew from position number two on the committee.

Tokayev’s cabinet also resigned.

The Russian news agency Interfax quoted an official as saying the airport had subsequently been cleared of protesters. Reuters could not independently confirm the report.

Previously, riot police used tear gas and flash grenades against protesters in Almaty, but later appeared to retreat.

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In the early hours of Thursday, in his second televised speech in hours, Tokayev said he had asked for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

He said gangs of foreign-trained “terrorists” were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons, and had taken five planes, including foreign ones, at the Almaty airport.

“It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens, who ask me … to help them urgently,” Tokayev said.

“Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalized, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits. Therefore, it is our duty … to take all possible measures to protect our state. “

Russian news agencies quoted Dmitry Rogozin, director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, as saying that security had been tightened around key facilities at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia uses for space launches.

An Almaty resident who mixed with the protesters on Wednesday said most of the people he met appeared to come from the impoverished outskirts of the city or nearby towns.

In the main square, vodka was being distributed and some people were discussing whether to head to the city bazaar or to a wealthy area for possible looting, the resident said.

“There is complete anarchy on the street,” he said.

Images posted online showed protesters chanting under a giant bronze statue of Nazarbayev, tied with rope in an apparent attempt to topple it. A woman who posted it said it was filmed in the eastern city of Taldykorgan.

Earlier Wednesday, Reuters journalists had seen thousands of protesters pressing towards the city center of Almaty, while in the city of Aqtobe, protesters gathered shouting: “Old man, go away!” An online video showed police using water cannons and stun grenades near the mayor’s office.

States of emergency were declared in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and western Mangistau province. Internet was shut down.

After accepting the resignation of the cabinet, Tokayev ordered the acting ministers to reverse the increase in the price of fuel, which doubled the cost of liquefied petroleum gas, widely used for vehicles in Kazakhstan.

The Kremlin has said it hopes that Kazakhstan, a close ally, will quickly resolve its internal problems, warning other countries not to interfere. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Russian accusations that the United States had instigated the riots were false.

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