President of Kazakh: To quell unrest, forces can use shooting to kill

MOSCOW (AP), -- Friday's authorization by Kazakhstan's president for security forces to shoot at protestors opened the doors to a dramatic escalation of the crackdown on violent anti-government protests.

President of Kazakh: To quell unrest, forces can use shooting to kill

This week, the Central Asian nation saw its largest street protests in over 30 years since it gained independence from the Soviet Union. Hundreds were killed during the chaos. Protests broke out over the near-doubling in price of a particular type of fuel, but spread quickly across the country, indicating wider discontent with authoritarian rule.

President Kassym Jomart Tokayev delivered a harsh speech to the nation in a televised address. He called those involved in the turmoil "terrorists", "bandits", and "militants" - though it was not clear what caused peaceful protests to gather steam and then turn into violence. So far, no protest leaders have been identified.

Tokayev stated, "I have given order to law enforcement to the army to shoot at killing without warning." "Those who refuse to surrender will be exterminated."

Recent days have seen concerns grow that an even greater crackdown could be imminent. Internet and cellphone service were severely disrupted, sometimes completely blocked, and many airports were closed, making it difficult for the outside world to see what was going on inside the country. Tokayev's request to help from the Russian-led military alliance, The Collective Security Treaty Organization (whose troops arrived Thursday), added to these fears.

The Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan reported Friday that 26 protesters were killed by security forces during unrest which escalated on Wednesday. Additional 26 people were also injured and over 3,800 people detained. There were 18 police officers killed and more than 700 wounded.

These numbers were not independently verified and it is not known if there was more death in the chaos that erupted as protestors stormed government buildings and set them ablaze.

On Friday morning, there were more skirmishes reported from Almaty. Russia's state news agency Tass reported on Friday morning that the Kazakh branch, which was funded by many former Soviet states, had set fire to the building.

In other areas of the country, life began to return to normal. News reports on Friday morning claimed that the internet had been partially restored in Nur-Sultan capital. However, it was not clear how long.

According to Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry spokeswoman, the Almaty airport was re-invested under control of Kazakh law enforcement forces and CTSO forces. The facility will be closed at least through Sunday, Kazakh TV channel Khabar 24 reported.

Tokayev stated that some calm had been restored hours before authorizing the use of lethal force to disperse unrest participants.

Tokayev has tried to placate the protesters by issuing a 180-day price limit on vehicle fuel and a moratorium against utility rate increases. He also promised to take harsh measures to end the unrest.

He vowed a more aggressive response and called for the CSTO alliance's assistance. According to Kazakh media, 2500 troops have already arrived in Almaty.

Officials from Kazakh insist that the troops of the alliance, which also includes former Soviet republics and other countries, will not be fighting protestors but will instead guard government institutions. It was not immediately clear if the foreign troops that had been deployed so far had any involvement in the suppression of the unrest.

The presence of CSTO forces in Kazakhstan is a sign that the country's neighbors, especially Russia, are worried about how the chaos could spread.

Tokayev reiterated his claims that both "foreign actors", as well as "independent media" contributed to the chaos.

Although he did not provide any evidence to support these claims, former Soviet countries, including Russia and Belarus, have used such rhetoric often in an effort to suppress anti-government protests in recent decades.

The territory of Kazakhstan covers an area the size of Western Europe. It borders Russia and China. Kazakhstan also has colossal oil, natural gas and uranium reserves that make it economically and strategically important. Many are concerned about the current crisis.

Ursula von der Leyen was the president of the European Commission. She said that she was following developments with a "great concern" while Emmanuel Macron, the French president, called for de-escalation.

Christofer Burger, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, stated that officials were investigating reports about Tokayev’s shooting order. Germany's view is that "it must be stated very clearly that the use of lethal force and live ammunition against civilians cannot be used as a last resort, especially if military forces have been deployed."

China seemed to be increasing its support for Kazakhstan's government Friday.

Kazakhstan is an important component of China's "Belt and Road", overland connection to Europe. However, persistent unrest in Kazakhstan could threaten Beijing's hopes of closer trade and political relations.

Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, expressed condolences for Tokayev's "large-scale riot" and praised him for "decisively taking strong measures at crucial moments and quickly calming the situation down."

"As a long-term strategic partner and a fraternal neighbour, China is ready to support Kazakhstan in this difficult time," Xi stated.

Despite Kazakhstan's wealth of resources, some Kazakhs are dissatisfied with the poor living conditions in their country. Many Kazakhs are also unhappy with the rule of the ruling party which controls more than 80% the seats in parliament.

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