Kazakhstan’s president has ordered security forces to open fire without warning as unrest continues in the tightly controlled Central Asian state.
In a televised address on Friday, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev warned demonstrators would be “destroyed” in the event of further disturbances as part of a forceful “counterterrorist” operation aimed at restoring order.
In almost a week of protests, dozens have been killed, including citizens and police.
The unprecedented crisis marks the worst violence Kazakhstan has seen since gaining independence three decades ago.
The interior ministry said that 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 detained since last weekend, while 18 police and national guard service members had also been killed.
Fresh gunshots could be heard on Friday morning near the central square in the largest city, Almaty, where troops and protesters battled the previous day.
Protests, which are rare in the relatively stable former Soviet nation, began over rising fuel prices. But the rallies have since morphed into violent anti-government riots.
At the request of Tokayev, Russia has sent “peacekeeping forces”. They arrived on Thursday, amid warnings from the West to Moscow to respect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.
Here are all the latest updates:
Moscow seeking stability in Kazakhstan: Analyst
Stanislav Pritchin, a senior research fellow at the Russia-based Centre for Post-Soviet Studies, says Moscow’s “only goal” in Kazakhstan is to support stability there and denies speculation the Kremlin is seeking to seize control of the former Soviet republic.
“That stability is extremely important [for Moscow], because the two states’ interdependence is so high,” Pritchin told Al Jazeera from the Russian capital.
“For Russia, it is more important to have a stable Kazakhstan than to have Kazakhstan under Russia’s security umbrella … and so now Russia has to do something to normalise the situation there,” he added, citing Moscow’s deployment of troops to its neighbour.
Tokayev determined to ‘wipe out opposition’
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Georgia, says Tokayev’s televised address was centred on “very aggressive … fighting talk”.
“There was very little in the way of sympathy for those who are protesting and demanding democratic reforms … and reforms to the country that will help them and ordinary people enjoy the benefits that they should be getting from Kazakhstan’s oil-rich economy,” said Forestier-Walker.
“He did say those … demands had been heard, but at the moment it sounds as if President Tokayev is determined to wipe out whatever opposition he now faces.”
West must stand up to Russia in Kazakhstan, dissident says
Kazakhstan is now in a geopolitical bind and unless the West enters the fray then Russia will bring the Central Asian state to heel in a type of restored Soviet Union, a former banker who casts himself as the leader of the anti-government protests has told Reuters.
Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former government minister who is now living in Paris, warned that without the involvement of Western powers, Kazakhstan would “turn into Belarus and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will methodically impose his programme: the recreation of a structure like the Soviet Union”.
Ablyazov said he was consulted every day on tactics on the ground in Almaty. “Every day the protesters call me and ask: ‘What should we do? We are standing here: What should we do?’” he told Reuters.
Heavy gunfire in Almaty overnight: Video
A BBC news journalist has posted footage from Kazakhstan’s largest city overnight in which heavy gunfire can be heard.
Almaty has been the site of the bloodiest clashes between protesters and security forces in recent days.
— Abdujalil A (@abdujalil) January 6, 2022
Kuwait asks its citizens in Kazakhstan to leave the country
The Kuwaiti embassy in Kazakhstan has asked Kuwaitis currently in the country to leave “for their safety”, according to a report by the state news agency KUNA.
The embassy also urged Kuwaitis who wanted to travel to Kazakhstan to postpone their plans “because of the emergency status” continuing in the country.
Tokayev orders forces to open fire without warning
Kazakhstan’s president says he has ordered security forces to open fire without warning in the event of further disturbances, adding that those who failed to surrender would be “destroyed”.
Up to 20,000 “bandits” had attacked Almaty and were destroying state property, Tokayev said in a televised address to the nation.
Tokayev also gave “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops to help quell the unrest and ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations – including those made by the United States and European Union – as “nonsense”.
“We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. With bandits and terrorists. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly,” he said.
‘Ordinary life has come to a standstill’
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Georgia, says the unrest in Almaty has created a “very difficult situation” for the city’s residents.
“We have seen queues at petrol stations and outside bakeries, and another factor to bear in mind is that given that the internet is down it’s very difficult for people to make payments online or obtain cash,” he said. “Ordinary life has come to a standstill in the city.”
Kazakh president says order ‘mostly restored’
Tokayev has said in a statement that the “forces of law and order are working hard” in response to the unrest and claims that “constitutional order has largely been restored in all regions of the country”.
“An anti-terrorist operation has been launched,” he said. “Local authorities are in control of the situation. But terrorists are still using weapons and damaging the property of citizens. Therefore, counter-terrorist actions should be continued until the militants are completely eliminated.”
Dozens killed amid unrest: Interior ministry
Kazakhstan’s interior ministry says 26 “armed criminals” have been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 detained since the protests started.
The department said in a statement that 18 police and national guard service members had also been killed amid the unrest.
The internet has been shut off in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the violence there.
Russian units flying in ’round the clock’
Russian military units are being flown into Kazakhstan “round the clock” and control Almaty’s airport together with Kazakh law enforcement, Russia’s Interfax news agency has quoted the country’s defence ministry as saying.
The airport had been taken over by a group of protesters on Wednesday, but a Reuters reporter who went there on Thursday said Kazakh security personnel had removed them.