Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he ordered police and military to fire without warning and signaled a wider crackdown on opponents as his security forces, backed by Russian troops, attempted to restore control after days of turmoil sparked by rising fuel prices. .
He said his government had largely restored order and told a meeting of security chiefs on Friday that what he called a counterterrorism operation would continue “until the militants are completely liquidated,” which , according to him, still used weapons. “The police and the army have been ordered to shoot terrorists to kill them without warning,” he said, following the arrival of Russian troops to support his government.
The authoritarian rulers of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia used the term “terrorist” to describe protesters from various walks of life. Mr. Tokayev said the authorities were fighting domestic and foreign “bandits and terrorists” who were armed and trained. He accused rights defenders, activists and the media of instigating the protests.
The calls for talks were absurd, he said. “What talks can there be with criminals, killers? “
“This is why they must be liquidated. And that will be done as soon as possible, ”he said. Mr Tokayev did not provide evidence for his allegation of foreign involvement in the unrest.
This week’s protests were sparked by increases in fuel prices that took effect at the start of the year and turned into a wider wave of frustration with the country’s economy and political system tightly controlled. Kazakh authorities say armed groups have attempted to seize government buildings. Dozens of people were killed, according to the authorities, including law enforcement officers.
The biggest mess appears to have taken place in Almaty, the largest city, where residents said they heard gunshots on Friday and saw shops looted with their windows smashed.
Troops from Russia and other countries of a regional security alliance had started arriving to help guard strategic buildings “for a limited period of time,” Tokayev said. A presidential adviser said the troops would not be directly involved in suppressing the protests, the Russian state news agency TASS reported.
Russian and Kazakh forces have taken control of Almaty airport, a Russian military spokesperson said.
In his speech, Tokayev thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “very quick and, above all, warm and friendly reaction to my request” for troops.
About 2,500 troops are said to be sent from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a number that could be bolstered, the group’s secretary general Stanislav Zas told Russian news agency RIA. The Russian Defense Ministry said nine transport planes carrying Russian paratroopers and equipment arrived in Almaty on Friday.
Washington is closely monitoring potential human rights violations as the crackdown continues, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the US government is trying to find out more about the involvement of CSTO troops led by Russia in suppressing unrest.
“It seems to me that the Kazakh authorities and government certainly have the capacity to properly handle the protests,” Blinken told reporters. “We don’t know why they feel the need for outside help, so we’re trying to find out more about it. “
He resisted comparisons with Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border: “I would not confuse these situations.
“Having said that, I think a lesson from recent history is that once the Russians are in your house, it is sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”
This is the first time that troops from the CSTO security bloc have been deployed in this way, showing the importance Mr. Putin places on strengthening stability on the southern reaches of the former Soviet Union at the time. that he is trying to slow down what he calls the West’s advance towards Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, where Russia traditionally reigns.
The Russian leader has massed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, which seeks to draw closer to the West. Mr Putin demanded that the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization renounce any eastward expansion towards Russia’s borders, which turns into a significant security challenge for the Biden administration. Moscow and Washington have agreed to hold talks on the issue next week.
Mr. Zas, the secretary general of CSTO, said the group responded to a call for help from the Kazakh authorities and that forces would be there for a few days or weeks, depending on the situation.
“Distortions have been circulating about some kind of invasion or something, even an ‘occupation’,” Zas said. “That, excuse me, is complete nonsense. “
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday sent a verbal message to Tokayev saying he “resolutely opposes outside forces who are deliberately creating unrest and inciting a” color revolution “in Kazakhstan,” the official said. Chinese official news agency Xinhua. “Color Revolution” is a phrase used by Russian and Chinese authorities to describe popular uprisings which they believe are being orchestrated by the United States and its allies.
Kazakh authorities have raised the level of the terrorist threat across the country to “critical red,” TASS reported, allowing security services to carry out checks on people and vehicles and restrict movement. Law enforcement officials have set up 70 checkpoints across the country, TASS said citing Kazakhstan’s interior ministry.
Residents of Almaty said they continued to hear gunshots and were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being caught in the violence, while TASS reported that the sound of gunfire could still be heard on Friday. evening although it has become less intense.
An adviser to Mr Tokayev said on state television that protesters made two attempts to break into a TV tower in Almaty overnight, Russian news agency Interfax reported. The tower, located near the popular Kok Tobe Park on a plateau overlooking the city, is at the highest point in the city and diffuses across Almaty.
Ainur, who lives with her husband and extended family near the Kok Tobe area, said he heard gunshots overnight.
“Throughout the night there were gunshots, like from a machine gun,” she said, using only her first name. “We can still hear it.”
She said stores were running out of supplies and the one near her home had no milk or bread and only took cash.
“Thank goodness we had the money on us to buy a few things,” she said.
Bilal, another resident of Almaty, said all town shops and stores throughout the town had been raided or destroyed.
“All the pawn shops, even the notary, almost anywhere they could have money that wasn’t protected by a metal screen, the windows were completely smashed,” he said. “The store windows that haven’t been smashed, you can see the boot marks of people trying to smash them. “
Bilal said residents only ventured outside in large groups for fear of being caught in the violence between protesters or the security services.
“No one dares to go out alone,” he said. “Everyone walks in a group, even the cars driving through the city, everyone travels in a large group even to go shopping. “
—William Mauldin in Washington contributed to this article.
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