The President of Kazakhstan said Friday that he had authorized law enforcement agencies to open fire on “terrorists” and kill them, a move that comes after days of extremely violent protests in the former Soviet nation.
In a televised address to the nation, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed “terrorists” and “militants” for the unrest and said he authorized the use of lethal force against them. “Those who do not surrender will be eliminated,” said Tokayev.
He has also blown calls for talks with protesters in some other countries as “nonsense”.
“What negotiations can be conducted with criminals, murderers?” Said Tokayev.
Tokayev had previously stated that constitutional order was “largely restored” after the country embroiled in unprecedented civil unrest.
“The local authorities are in control of the situation,” Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was quoted by his spokesmen as saying on Friday.
The President added, however, that “terrorists are still using weapons and damaging people’s property” and that “anti-terrorist actions” should continue.
Kazakhstan is witnessing the worst street protests since the country gained independence three decades ago. The demonstrations began with the prices of some type of vehicle fuel nearly doubling and quickly spread across the country, reflecting greater dissatisfaction with the rule of the same party since independence.
The protests have become extremely violent, government buildings set on fire, and dozens of demonstrators and more than a dozen police officers killed. Internet was shut down across the country and two airports closed, including one in Almaty, the country’s largest city.
In a concession, the government announced on Thursday a 180-day price cap for vehicle fuel and a moratorium on electricity tariff increases. Tokayev vacillated between trying to appease the demonstrators, including accepting the resignation of his government, and promising tough measures to crack down on the unrest he accused of “terrorist gangs”.
As one such measure, the president has sought help from a Russia-led military alliance.
The alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, comprises the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and has started sending troops to Kazakhstan for a peacekeeping mission.
Kazakh officials have insisted that the troops do not fight the protesters but instead guard government institutions.
Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry reported Friday that 26 protesters were killed, 18 injured and more than 3,000 people arrested in the riot. A total of 18 police officers were also killed and over 700 injured.
Skirmishes in Almaty were reported on Friday morning. Russia’s state news agency Tass reported that the building of the Kazakh branch of the Mir broadcaster, financed by several former Soviet states, was on fire.
However, Almaty Airport – which was previously stormed and occupied by protesters – is again under the control of Kazakh law enforcement agencies and the CSTO peacekeeping forces, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Friday. The airport will remain closed until Friday evening, reported the local TV station Khabar 24, citing airport spokesmen.
In other parts of the country, some things were starting to return to normal. In the capital Nur-Sultan, access to the Internet was partially restored and rail traffic throughout Kazakhstan resumed.
The airport in the capital is operating as usual, Khabar 24 reported. According to the TV station, the airlines will resume domestic flights to the cities of Shymkent, Turkestan and Atyrau, as well as flights to Moscow and Dubai, from 3 p.m. (4 a.m. ET).
Tokayev is expected to address the nation on Friday afternoon.