Deadly clashes rock Kazakhstan's largest city as crisis escalates

Dozens of people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces in Kazakhtan's largest city, state TV reported on Thursday, as Russia sent paratroopers to quell the country's worst unrest since independence three decades ago.

A burning police car pictured during protests in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 5, 2022.
A burning police car pictured during protests in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 5, 2022. © Pavel Mikheyev, Reuters

Police said they had killed dozens of rioters as violence escalated in the former Soviet country's most populous city, Almaty, while state television said 13 members of the security forces had also died, including two found decapitated.

A presidential residence and the mayor's office in the city were both ablaze, Reuters journalists said. By Thursday afternoon, the city's airport, seized earlier by protesters, was under firm control of military personnel. Burnt out cars littered the streets.

The unrest, which kicked off in protest at a fuel price hike, has prompted the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to declare a state of emergency and appeal for help. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of former Soviet states, said Russia had sent paratroopers to Kazakhstan to help restore order

Earlier on Thursday, several armoured personnel carriers and scores of troops had entered the main square of Almaty, and gunshots could be heard as troops clashed with demonstrators protesting for a third consecutive day. Later, the square appeared peaceful, with 200-300 protesters still gathered and no troops around.

Unverified video on social media showed troops patrolling Almaty's foggy streets overnight, firing weapons, as well as widespread looting in the city. Masked protesters, some carrying shields and batons apparently seized from police, marched through billowing tear gas along a tree-lined avenue, to the sound of detonations.

The internet had been shut down across the country and the full extent of the violence was impossible to confirm. But the chaos was unprecedented for Kazakhstan, ruled firmly since Soviet times by leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who had held on to the reins despite stepping down three years ago as president.

The unrest began as protests against the rising price of liquefied petroleum gas, a fuel used by the poor to power their cars, but has since turned into anti-government riots feeding off deep-seated resentment over three decades of rule by Nazarbayev and his hand-picked successor.

Tokayev tried to head off further unrest by announcing the government's resignation early on Wednesday, but protests continued. Much of the anger appeared directed at his predecessor Nazarbayev, with images posted on social media showing a statue of the ex-president being torn down.

Nazarbayev has been widely seen as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital which 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 of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries.

But a younger generation is demanding the liberalisation seen in other former satellite states of the Soviet Union. The protests are the worst in Kazakhstan – a country five times the size of France with a population of nearly 19 million people – in over a decade.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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