- Dozens killed in worst violence since independence
- Russian-led agency says peacekeeping force is 2,500
- The fuel price protest turned into an anti-government movement
ALMATY, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Security forces appeared to be in control of the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city, Almaty, on Friday morning and the president said constitutional order had been restored for the most part, a day after Russia sent troops to quell a nationwide uprising.
However, fresh gunfire could be heard in the morning near the city’s central square, where troops and protesters had fought for much of the previous day.
Dozens of people have been killed in street clashes and protesters have set fire to and looted public buildings in several cities in the worst violence in the Central Asian state’s 30-year independence.
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Russia’s Defense Ministry, quoted by Interfax, said that more than 70 planes were flying 24 hours a day to bring Russian troops to Kazakhstan, and now they were helping to control the main Almaty airport, recovered on Thursday from protesters. .
The demonstrations that began in response to a rise in fuel prices have grown into a broad movement against the government and 81-year-old former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.
He resigned the presidency three years ago, but his family is believed to have retained power in Nur-Sultan, the specially designed capital named after him.
Nazarbayev’s chosen successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, called in Russian paratroopers on Thursday as part of a force from former Soviet states to help quell the uprising, which he has described as a revolt by foreign-trained militants.
“An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. Law enforcement is working hard. Constitutional order has been largely restored in all regions of the country,” Tokayev said in a statement.
“The local authorities are in control of the situation. But the terrorists continue to use weapons and damage the property of citizens. Therefore, anti-terrorist actions must continue until the militants are completely eliminated.”
TROOPS IN ALMATY
The Interior Ministry said that 26 “armed criminals” had been “killed” and more than 3,000 detained, while 18 members of the police and national guard had been killed since the protests began. read more
On Friday morning, Reuters correspondents saw armored vehicles and troops in Almaty’s main square.
A few hundred meters away, a body lay in a badly damaged civilian car. In another part of town, a munitions store had been looted. Military vehicles and about 100 people in military uniforms had also taken up positions in another Almaty square.
Widespread riots have been reported in several other cities in this vast country of 19 million people. The internet has been offline since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the violence.
Moscow’s rapid deployment demonstrated the Kremlin’s willingness to use force to maintain its influence in the former Soviet Union. The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization said its peacekeeping force from the former Soviet states would be around 2,500 and would remain in Kazakhstan for a few days or weeks.
Moscow was “defending Kazakhstan and doing what its allies should do,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko.
The Tokayev administration said that the force was still arriving and that it had not participated in combat or in the “elimination of militants.”
The violence has been unprecedented in a country ruled firmly for decades by Nazarbayev, who was the last Soviet-era Communist Party chief still in power in an ex-Soviet state when he passed the presidency to Tokayev in 2019.
Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard from since the protests began. Tokayev has tried to distance himself from his predecessor, pulling Nazarbayev and his nephew from security posts since the protests began.
The Tokayev administration said the identity of the detained militants was being established and the possibility that they belonged to an extremist organization was being investigated.
The president will address the nation on Friday, his administration said, calling on people in Almaty to limit their travels around the city while “the search for the remaining hidden bandits is underway.”
Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s leading producer of uranium.
Oil production at its main field, Tengiz, declined on Thursday, field operator Chevron (CVX.N) said, as some contractors disrupted train lines in support of the protests. World oil prices have risen and the price of uranium has skyrocketed since the fighting began. read more
The country also accounts for about a fifth of global bitcoin “mining,” the electricity-consuming process of recording cryptocurrency transactions, and Kazakhstan’s internet shutdown has reduced the computing power of the global bitcoin network. L4N2TM22L
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Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Tamara Vaal, Mariya Gordeyeva and Pavel Mikheyev Writing by Peter Graff and Polina Devitt Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry and John Stonestreet
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