Protests rage for a fourth day on Wednesday (Jan. 5) in Kazakhstan. Protesters in Almaty, the Central Asian country’s largest city, stormed the city hall, and several other government buildings setting some ablaze.
Mass protests were triggered by a rise in fuel prices. Price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, were lifted on Saturday, and the cost of fuel doubled within days. Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG.
Internet in most of the country was reportedly shut off, and popular messaging apps like Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp were all unavailable in the Central Asian country, while two independent media websites that reported on the protests appeared to have been blocked.
Some analysts said the protests — the most serious in the country in at least a decade — pointed to more deep rooted issues.
“They started for economic reasons, the doubling in the prices of gas, but they quickly took a political angle with people calling for free elections of local officials, calling for the ouster of top officials, the government,” Bruce Pannier, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe, told Al Jazeera.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted the government’s resignation on Wednesday and ordered the acting cabinet to reinstate price controls on LPG. He also ordered the acting cabinet to broaden price controls to petrol, diesel and other “socially important” consumer goods.
“Together we will overcome this dark moment in the history of Kazakhstan and emerge stronger,” Tokayev said.
Tokayev, who was handpicked as a successor by Nursultan Nazarbayev, took office in 2019. Nazarbayev, 81, had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, and retains sweeping powers as the chairman of the security council and “Leader of the Nation” – a constitutional role that affords him unique policymaking privileges as well as immunity from prosecution.
The country’s interior ministry meanwhile said more than 200 people had been detained across the country for attacking government buildings. It said 95 police officers had been wounded but did not give any figures on injuries among protesters.
Kazakhstan’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds suffered sharp falls with the 2045 issue falling around 3 cents in the dollar and many dropping to levels last seen in 2020, Tradeweb data showed.
Kazakhstan, a traditionally stable Central Asian state, shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday “hopefully, the situation will be normalized as soon as possible in the country, with which Russia has a strategic partnership and allied, fraternal and people-to-people contacts.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Kazakhstan could solve its own problems and it was important that no one interfered from the outside, RIA news agency reported.
Last month, lawmakers in Kazakhstan ratified an updated military cooperation deal with Russia.
Police kills dozens of protesters
Police in Kazakhstan have killed dozens of protesters who tried to storm government buildings, according to media reports.
The Kazakh Interior Ministry said at least eight police and national guard troops had been killed in the unrest while 300 were injured.
Tokayev had earlier vowed to take harsh measures to quell the unrest and declared a two-week state of emergency for the whole country.
Russia is sending in troops at the request of the Kazakh president. They will be deployed to help “stabilise” the country, which is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) along with Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. The CSTO was set up nearly 30 years ago, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as an alliance to counter external military threats.
Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors.
Leader issues ‘shoot to kill’ order
Kazakhstan’s president has ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning. ” In a televised address to the nation, he said: “Those who don’t surrender will be eliminated.” He said peacekeeping forces had arrived in Kazakhstan from Russia and neighbouring states on request and would temporarily remain in the country to ensure security. Troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation – an alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – have been deployed.
President Tokayev says order had been restored
Speaking to an online meeting of the CSTO on Monday (Jan. 10) Tokayev said order had been restored in his country and described protests as an “attempted coup d’etat.” Speaking alongside Tokayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the military alliance of ex-Soviet states had prevented “terrorists, criminals, looters and other criminal elements” from undermining the basis of power in Kazakhstan. More than 160 people died in the violent unrest
With reporting by Al Jazeera, EurasiaNet, RIA, Washington Post