Kazakhstan’s president issues ‘shoot to kill’ order in push to end unrest

Kazakhstan’s president said on Friday that he had ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning”, after days of protests in the former Soviet country left government buildings destroyed and dozens dead.

In a televised broadcast to the nation, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev depicted the unrest, which began with demonstrations last weekend over a rise in fuel prices, as a co-ordinated attack by a 20,000-strong army of bandits rather than a spontaneous protest. However, he said that order had now largely been restored following a “counter-terrorism operation” backed by Russian forces.

“Those who do not surrender will be eliminated,” Tokayev said. “Law enforcement and the army have been given the order by me to shoot to kill without warning.”

His speech marked an aggressive shift after earlier attempts to appease protesters failed to quell the increasingly politicised disorder.

At least 26 protesters and 18 police officers have so far been killed in the violence, according to Kazakh officials, with more than 3,700 people arrested, Interfax cited Kazakh state television as saying.

Tokayev accused the “so-called free media” of inciting unlawful activity and lambasted “so-called human rights defenders”.

“All of these irresponsible demagogues became participants . . . and we will react severely to all acts of vandalism against the law,” he said.

The street protests, the country’s worst since independence in 1991, began over a near-doubling of prices for a type of vehicle fuel but escalated quickly in a reflection of broader discontent.

Tokayev has since vacillated between mollifying the demonstrators and threatening harsh measures.

On Thursday, the government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and utility rate rises. Meeting two of the protesters’ other demands, he has also accepted the resignation of the government and appeared to displace former president Nursultan Nazarbayev from a key security role, through which he continued to wield influence.

But Tokayev also appealed for assistance from a Russia-led military alliance.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, which also includes Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, started to deploy troops in Kazakhstan on a peacekeeping mission on Thursday.

Kazakh and CSTO officials insist the troops will not fight the demonstrators, but rather guard government institutions and significant infrastructure, such as the international airport at Almaty.

On Friday, the Russian defence ministry said Russian special forces, which arrived on 75 aircraft, plus Kazakh law enforcement personnel, had regained control of the airport. Control has also been re-established over all city halls in the country, some of which had been stormed by protesters.

Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister said the total military presence of the CSTO will number about 2,500 troops.

Tokayev said he had “decided to switch the internet back on in some areas . . . for limited intervals of time” after an internet blackout was imposed midweek.

He also gave “a special word of thanks to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin”, for reacting “swiftly” to his request for help. The Kremlin intervention, which took place ahead of security talks with the US and Nato about Ukraine, was its second in two years after Putin backed Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in his crackdown on protests in 2020.

Chinese president Xi Jinping told Tokayev on Friday that China was ready to offer Kazakhstan the help it needed to overcome difficulties, China’s Global Times newspaper reported. Tokayev had taken appropriate measures to quell unrest, the paper cited Xi as saying.

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