Reports Thursday from Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, say government security forces, with the aid of Russian-backed troops, have fired on protesters there, killing dozens, as unrest in the former Soviet republic escalates.
In news video taken from the streets of Almaty, security forces — some in armored vehicles — can be seen firing repeatedly into a crowd of protesters in the city’s Republican square. A representative from one of the protest groups told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty most of the people in the square were unarmed.
Kazakh police reported killing dozens of protesters and detaining more than 2,000 people in the past day. There were also reports of several police being killed, with one officer reportedly found beheaded.
Thursday’s crackdown comes a day after the protests, which began days earlier over a jump in fuel prices, turned violent, with thousands of people taking to the streets, some reportedly armed with clubs and shields, and storming government buildings, including the president’s residence.
As Kazakh security forces lost control of the situation, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev requested Russian military intervention, under the terms of the so-called collective security treaties that exist among several former Soviet countries.
In a nationally televised address on Wednesday, Tokayev declared a state of emergency and referred to the protesters as well-organized thugs and terrorists with outside support, which he did not identify, and promised to deal with them harshly.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on Thursday with Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi regarding the ongoing state of emergency, according to a statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price. Blinken reiterated full U.S. support for “Kazakhstan’s constitutional institutions and media freedom and advocated for a peaceful, rights-respecting resolution to the crisis,” Price said.
The demonstrations began late last week in the western part of the country to protest the doubling of fuel prices. But the fact they have spread across the country so quickly and grew so large has led political observers to suggest they reflect wider discontent in the country that has lived under authoritarianism since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.