Dozens of protesters and 12 police died during extraordinarily violent demonstrations in Kazakhstan that saw government buildings stormed and set ablaze, authorities said Thursday. One police officer was found beheaded in escalating unrest that poses a growing challenge to authoritarian rule in the Central Asian natio, according to AP.
After breaking into the presidential residence and the mayor’s office in the country’s largest city Wednesday, demonstrators continued to try to storm more buildings overnight. “Dozens of attackers were liquidated,” police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek told state news channel Khabar-24, using a term common to describe the killing of people thought to be extremists. Twelve police officers were killed in the unrest and 353 injured, according to city officials cited by the channel.
While the president initially seemed to try to mollify the protesters, he later promised harsh measures to quell the unrest, which he blamed on “terrorist bands,” and called on a Russia-led military alliance for help. The airports in Almaty and two other cities have been shut, and internet service was severely interrupted for the second day on Thursday, blocking access to Kazakh news sites.
Tens of thousands of people, some reportedly carrying clubs and shields, have taken to the streets in recent days in the worst protests the country has seen since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago. Although the demonstrations began over a near-doubling of prices for a type of vehicle fuel, their size and rapid spread suggest they reflect wider discontent in the country that has been under the rule of the same party since independence.
A Russia-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said early Thursday that it would send peacekeeper troops to Kazakhstan at Tokayev’s request.
The protests appear to have no identifiable leader or demands. Much of the anger displayed in recent days was directed not at Tokayev, but at Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s first president who continued to wield enormous influence after his 2019 resignation. Protesters shouted “Shal ket!” (“Old man go”), an apparent reference to Nazarbayev, who dominated Kazakhstan’s politics and whose rule was marked by a moderate cult of personality.
After the demonstrations spread to Nur-Sultan and Almaty, the government announced its resignation, but Tokayev said the ministers would stay in their roles until a new Cabinet is formed, making it uncertain whether the resignations will have significant impact.
At the start of the year, prices for the fuel called liquefied petroleum gas roughly doubled as the government moved away from price controls as part of efforts to move to a market economy.