Ex-Soviet states to send forces to Kazakhstan as president fails to quell unrest

ALMATY, Kazakhstan – A Russia-led security alliance of former Soviet states will send peacekeepers to Kazakhstan, the Armenian prime minister said Thursday after the Kazakh president asked for their help in cracking down violent and deadly protests.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook that an unspecified number of peacekeepers would travel to Kazakhstan for a limited period to stabilize the situation after state buildings were set on fire and the international airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, had been confiscated.

Eight police officers and national guards were killed in the riots on Tuesday and Wednesday, Russian state agency Sputnik quoted the Kazakh Interior Ministry as saying on Wednesday. Russian news agencies later said, citing Kazakh media, that two soldiers were also killed in what they called an anti-terrorist operation at Almaty Airport.

The protests, initially sparked by anger over a surge in fuel prices, quickly spread to find broader opposition to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who despite his resignation in 2019 after nearly three decades, was a significant one Retained power.

The 81-year-old Nazarbayev is widely regarded as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that 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 in foreign investment into its oil and metals industries.

But a younger generation is calling for liberalization in other former satellite states of the Soviet Union. The protests in Kazakhstan, a country five times the size of France and nearly 19 million people, are the worst in over a decade.

Apparently trying to appease public anger, Tokayev dismissed Nazarbayev on Wednesday as head of the powerful Security Council and took him over. He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and removed Nazarbayev’s nephew from position No. 2 of the committee.

The Tokayev cabinet also resigned.

The protests continued, however, with protesters taking control of Almaty airport, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Flights have been canceled.

The Russian news agency Interfax quoted an official as saying that the airport was subsequently evacuated by demonstrators. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report.

The riot police had previously used tear gas and lightning grenades against demonstrators in Almaty, but then appeared to withdraw.

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In the early hours of Thursday morning, Tokayev said in his second televised address within a few hours that he had asked for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance made up of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

He said overseas-trained “terrorist” gangs had seized buildings, infrastructure and weapons and captured five aircraft, including foreign ones, at Almaty Airport.

“It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and, above all, an attack on our citizens who are asking me … to help them urgently,” Tokayev said.

“Almaty has been attacked, destroyed, devastated, the residents of Almaty have been the victims of attacks by terrorists and bandits. Therefore it is our duty … to take all possible measures to protect our state. “

Russian news agencies quoted Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, as saying that security around important installations in the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia uses for space launches, had been strengthened.

An Almaty resident who mingled with protesters on Wednesday said most of those he met appeared to be from the city’s impoverished outskirts or surrounding villages.

Vodka was being distributed in the main square and some people were discussing whether to go to the city bazaar or some affluent area for possible looting, the local resident said.

“There is absolute anarchy in the streets,” he said.

Footage posted on the Internet shows demonstrators singing under a giant bronze statue of Nazarbayev that is strung with ropes to appear to be pulling it down. A woman who posted it said it was filmed in the eastern town of Taldykorgan.

Earlier Wednesday, Reuters journalists saw thousands of demonstrators heading for Almaty city center while demonstrators gathered in the city of Aqtobe shouting, “Old man, go away!” A video posted on the Internet showed police working near the Mayor’s offices used water cannons and stun grenades.

A state of emergency was declared in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and the western province of Mangistau. The internet was turned off.

After accepting the cabinet’s resignation, Tokayev ordered incumbent ministers to reverse the fuel price hike, which doubled the cost of liquefied petroleum gas, widely used for vehicles in Kazakhstan.

The Kremlin said it expected Kazakhstan, a close ally, to resolve its internal problems quickly and warned other countries not to interfere. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Russian allegations that the US instigated the riot were false.

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