Kazakhstan’s president has ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning” as unrest continues in the tightly controlled Central Asian state.
In a televised address on Friday, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev warned demonstrators would be “destroyed” as part of a forceful “counterterrorist” operation.
In almost a week of protests, dozens have been killed, including citizens and police.
The unprecedented crisis marks the worst violence Kazakhstan has seen since gaining independence 30 years ago.
The interior ministry said that 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 detained since last weekend, while 18 police and national guard service members had also been killed.
Gunshots could be heard on Friday morning near the central square in the largest city, Almaty, where troops and protesters battled on previous days.
Protests, which are rare in the relatively stable former Soviet nation, began over rising fuel prices. But the rallies have since morphed into violent anti-government riots.
At the request of Tokayev, Russia has sent “peacekeeping forces”. They arrived on Thursday, amid warnings from the West to Moscow to respect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.
This live blog is now closed. Here are the updates from January 7:
US approves voluntary departure of some consulate staff from Kazakhstan
The United States has announced it had approved the voluntary departure of non-emergency US government employees and family members from the consulate general in the Kazakh city of Almaty, amid an ongoing state of emergency in the country.
“US citizens in Kazakhstan should be aware that violent protests may severely impact the US Embassy’s ability to provide consular services, including assistance to US citizens departing Kazakhstan,” the State Department said in a statement posted on its website on Friday.
“The nationwide unrest that began January 2, 2022, caused widespread destruction of infrastructure and government buildings in Almaty and resulted in the detention, injury, and/or death of significant numbers of protesters and security forces.”
Russian involvement as ‘assertion of influence’
Fariz Ismailzade, a vice-rector at the ADA University, said the Kazakhstan authorities have green-lighted the Russian military involvement as a protection against “Islamic radical elements from organizing the protests”.
“The official line is that Russian troops are there to protect Kazakhstan from Islamic radicals, from international terrorists,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking from Baku. “This line is hardly believed by local citizens because the initial protests were organized by ordinary citizens.”
“I think Russia is trying to be more assertive in Kazakhstan, to have more influence, to dominate the region militarily, and to continue keeping Kazakhstan within its orbit of influence,” he added. “That is the main calculation for sending military troops to Almaty.”
Most of the border crossings with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan closed
Five of the seven border crossings with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan have been sealed from the Kazakhstan side, Al Jazeera’s Rania Dridi reported.
Speaking at the border crossing closest to the city of Almaty, some 200km (120 miles) away, Dridi said the situation is still volatile.
“We have seen extensive presence of the Kazakh border guards fully geared for fear of any assault from outside, like what happened to the airports,” she said.
“Following the president’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ statement, authorities in Kazakhstan deem the security option, or use of lethal force, as the only solution.”
NATO chief calls for end to Kazakhstan violence
The secretary-general of NATO has called for an end to the violence in Kazakhstan.
Speaking after chairing a virtual NATO meeting in Brussels, Jens Stoltenberg said alliance members were “concerned” and expressed regret for the loss of lives in the violent demonstrations and the resulting crackdown by authorities.
Human rights, particularly the rights of peaceful protest and freedom of expression, needed to be respected, he added.
Turkish parliament head speaks to Kazakh counterpart amid unrest
The Turkish parliament speaker held a phone talk with his Kazakh counterpart on Friday amid ongoing unrest in the Central Asian country.
“Kazakhstan is our friend, our brother. We follow what’s going on there as closely as what is going on in our own country,” Mustafa Sentop told Nurlan Nigmatulin.
It is “quite valuable” for Turkey that peace and security be ensured in Kazakhstan, Sentop said, adding: “Furthermore, the stability of the country is also very important for the region.”
‘Mixed bag’ of actors engaged in protests: Analyst
Maxim Suchkov, a non-resident expert at the Moscow-headquartered Russian International Affairs Council, says both the scale and violent nature of the unrest suggests there is a “mixed bag” of actors involved.
“That includes some people who are genuinely disgruntled, but also some forces who, according to the Kazakhstani leadership, have received advanced training,” Suchkov told Al Jazeera from the Russian capital.
Tokayev has blamed foreign-trained “terrorists” for the violence in Kazakhstan, without providing any evidence to support his claim.
Tokayev has ‘done little’ on democratic reforms
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Georgia, says the outburst of unrest in Kazakhstan would “not have happened had President Tokayev and his administration engaged in the dialogue over democratic reforms that he had pledged to”.
“He has, in reality, done very little since he came to power,” said Forestier-Walker, an expert on Central Asia.
Turkish Airlines cancels Kazakhstan-bound flights
Turkish Airlines says it is cancelling all flights to Kazakhstan until Sunday, January 9, due to “negative developments” in the former Soviet nation.
In a statement, Turkey’s flag carrier said its flight personnel in Almaty would be flown back to Istanbul on Saturday, while other evacuation measures for the personnel in the capital Nur-Sultan were being evaluated.
Images from Almaty
Pictures captured in Almaty by the AFP news agency show protesters clashing with security forces, and the lingering fallout from the violence.
Further details on the CSTO peacekeeping force
The peacekeeping forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sent to Kazakhstan will total about 2,500 people, Russian news agency RIA Novosti has quoted the secretariat of the Moscow-led security bloc as saying.
These peacekeeping forces will stay in Kazakhstan for several days or weeks, RIA reported, citing the secretariat. The peacekeepers have the right to use weapons in Kazakhstan in case they are attacked by “armed gangs,” it added.
According to Eurasianet, which has some useful analysis on the move on its website, this marks the first time CSTO’s collective security provision has been exercised.
Six basic facts about Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan, which spans a territory the size of Western Europe, borders Russia and China and sits atop colossal reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals that make it strategically and economically important. Despite that wealth, discontent about poor living conditions is strong in some parts of the country. Here are six things to know:
- Helped by a reputation for political stability under its former long-serving leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment, but much of the economy is believed to be controlled by the Nazarbayev family.
- Now 81, Nazarbayev steered his country to independence from Moscow in 1991 and became the longest-serving ruler of any ex-Soviet state, only stepping down in 2019 to make way for his hand-picked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
- Nazarbayev retained authority as head of a powerful security council. With some protesters on Wednesday chanting slogans against Nazarbayev, President Tokayev replaced him as chief of that body.
- Kazakhstan’s purpose-built new capital, Nur-Sultan, is named after the former president.
- Kazakhstan, a majority Muslim nation, is central to a geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia, China and the West. It has historically close ties with Russia and ethnic Russians make up nearly a fifth of the population.
- Human rights groups have long criticised Kazakhstan for its authoritarian political system and its lack of free speech and open and fair elections.
Bitcoin slumps amid Kazakhstan unrest
Bitcoin is experiencing another downturn, with the continued unrest in Kazakhstan thought to be a key factor in the cryptocurrency’s falling value.
The global computing power of the Bitcoin network has dropped sharply this week following the shutdown of Kazakhstan’s internet, which heavily affected the country’s fast-growing cryptocurrency mining industry.
The coin’s value tumbled by as much as 5 percent on Friday, plunging to its lowest level since late September and falling under the $41,000 mark.
China’s Xi praises Tokayev’s response
China’s President Xi Jinping has praised Tokayev for his “highly responsible” handling of the unrest in a message sent to his Kazakh counterpart, according to a report by state media.
“You decisively took strong measures at critical moments and quickly calmed down the situation, showing your position of responsibility and sense of duty as a politician, and of being highly responsible for your country and your people,” Xi told Tokayev in the message, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
Read how other world leaders have responded to the crisis here.
Macron, von der Leyen call for end to violence
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron have called for an end to the continuing violence in Kazakhstan.
“Citizens’ rights and security are fundamental and must be guaranteed. I call for an end to the violence and for restraint. The European Union is ready to help where it can,” von der Leyen told reporters in Paris alongside Macron, who said he fully echoed her comments.
Moscow seeking stability in Kazakhstan: Analyst
Stanislav Pritchin, a senior research fellow at the Russia-based Centre for Post-Soviet Studies, says Moscow’s “only goal” in Kazakhstan is to support stability there and denies speculation the Kremlin is seeking to seize control of the former Soviet republic.
“That stability is extremely important [for Moscow], because the two states’ interdependence is so high,” Pritchin told Al Jazeera from the Russian capital.
“For Russia, it is more important to have a stable Kazakhstan than to have Kazakhstan under Russia’s security umbrella … and so now Russia has to do something to normalise the situation there,” he added, citing Moscow’s deployment of troops to its neighbour.
Tokayev determined to ‘wipe out opposition’
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Georgia, says Tokayev’s televised address was centred on “very aggressive … fighting talk”.
“There was very little in the way of sympathy for those who are protesting and demanding democratic reforms … and reforms to the country that will help them and ordinary people enjoy the benefits that they should be getting from Kazakhstan’s oil-rich economy,” said Forestier-Walker.
“He did say those … demands had been heard, but at the moment it sounds as if President Tokayev is determined to wipe out whatever opposition he now faces.”
West must stand up to Russia in Kazakhstan, dissident says
Kazakhstan is now in a geopolitical bind and unless the West enters the fray then Russia will bring the Central Asian state to heel in a type of restored Soviet Union, a former banker who casts himself as the leader of the anti-government protests has told Reuters.
Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former government minister who is now living in Paris, warned that without the involvement of Western powers, Kazakhstan would “turn into Belarus and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will methodically impose his programme: the recreation of a structure like the Soviet Union”.
Ablyazov said he was consulted every day on tactics on the ground in Almaty. “Every day, the protesters call me and ask: ‘What should we do? We are standing here: What should we do?'” he told Reuters.
Heavy gunfire in Almaty overnight: Video
A BBC news journalist has posted footage from Kazakhstan’s largest city overnight in which heavy gunfire can be heard.
Almaty has been the site of the bloodiest clashes between protesters and security forces in recent days.
— Abdujalil A (@abdujalil) January 6, 2022
Kuwait asks its citizens in Kazakhstan to leave the country
The Kuwaiti embassy in Kazakhstan has asked Kuwaitis currently in the country to leave “for their safety”, according to a report by the state news agency KUNA.
The embassy also urged Kuwaitis who wanted to travel to Kazakhstan to postpone their plans “because of the emergency status” continuing in the country.
Tokayev orders forces to open fire without warning
Kazakhstan’s president says he has ordered security forces to open fire without warning in the event of further disturbances, adding that those who failed to surrender would be “destroyed”.
Up to 20,000 “bandits” had attacked Almaty and were destroying state property, Tokayev said in a televised address to the nation.
Tokayev also gave “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops to help quell the unrest and ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations – including those made by the United States and European Union – as “nonsense”.
“We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. With bandits and terrorists. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly,” he said.
‘Ordinary life has come to a standstill’
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Georgia, says the unrest in Almaty has created a “very difficult situation” for the city’s residents.
“We have seen queues at petrol stations and outside bakeries, and another factor to bear in mind is that given that the internet is down it’s very difficult for people to make payments online or obtain cash,” he said. “Ordinary life has come to a standstill in the city.”
Kazakh president says order ‘mostly restored’
Tokayev has said in a statement that the “forces of law and order are working hard” in response to the unrest and claims that “constitutional order has largely been restored in all regions of the country”.
“An anti-terrorist operation has been launched,” he said. “Local authorities are in control of the situation. But terrorists are still using weapons and damaging the property of citizens. Therefore, counter-terrorist actions should be continued until the militants are completely eliminated.”
Dozens killed amid unrest: Interior ministry
Kazakhstan’s interior ministry says 26 “armed criminals” have been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 detained since the protests started.
The department said in a statement that 18 police and national guard service members had also been killed amid the unrest.
The internet has been shut off in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the violence there.
Russian units flying in ’round the clock’
Russian military units are being flown into Kazakhstan “round the clock” and control Almaty’s airport together with Kazakh law enforcement, Russia’s Interfax news agency has quoted the country’s defence ministry as saying.
The airport had been taken over by a group of protesters on Wednesday, but a Reuters reporter who went there on Thursday said Kazakh security personnel had removed them.