Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has ordered security forces to “kill without warning” to crush the violent protests that have paralyzed the former Soviet republic and reportedly left dozens dead, according to CNN
In a defiant public address Friday, Tokayev said the unrest that began earlier this week as protests against rising fuel prices had been masterminded by well-trained “terrorist bandits” from both inside and outside the country. Kazakh state media reported Friday that 18 security personnel and 26 “armed criminals” had been killed in violent protests. More than 3,000 people have been detained.
Tokayev said the situation had “stabilized” in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and that the “introduction of a state of emergency is yielding results.”
“But terrorists continue to damage state and private property and use weapons against citizens,” he said. “I gave the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to open fire to kill without warning.”
The speech attempted to undermine the narrative that the demonstrations were a product of popular unrest that turned increasingly destructive and deadly. Tokayev said the violence was the product of a well-organized enemy, armed with sleeper cells carrying out “terrorist attacks” and “specialists trained in ideological sabotage, skillfully using disinformation or ‘fakes’ and capable of manipulating people’s moods.”
“Their actions showed the presence of a clear plan of attacks on military, administrative and social facilities in almost all areas, coherent coordination of actions, high combat readiness and bestial cruelty,” Tokayev said. “They need to be destroyed.”
However, several protesters who spoke to international media rejected that characterization.
“We are neither thugs nor terrorists,” one woman said. “The only thing flourishing here is corruption”
Another man told CNN that people “want the truth.”
“The government is rich, but all of these people here have loans to pay. We have our pain, and we want to share it,” he said.
The demonstrations are the biggest challenge yet to the autocrat’s rule, with initial public anger over a rise in fuel prices expanding to wider discontent with the government over corruption, living standards, poverty and unemployment in the oil-rich nation — all of which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say.
“This is a government that is highly detached from the reality of what happens on the ground. It’s a country where there are no institutions through which to protest; the only route is on the streets,” Paul Stronski of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told CNN.