Peacekeeping troops from a Russia-led alliance are set to enter Kazakhstan as violent protests sparked by an energy price hike continue.
A two-week state of emergency has been declared nationwide, curfews set up, and the entire government has resigned over the crisis.
The unrest has seen protesters set fire to government buildings in Almaty, the country’s commercial hub, with police firing tear gas and stun grenades.
Flights to and from Almaty were also reportedly cancelled for a while on Wednesday after protesters took control of the airport.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization – an alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – is to deploy troops, according to a Facebook post by Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan, chair of the group.
He said they would be deployed for a limited time “in view of the threat to the national security and sovereignty of the Republic of Kazakhstan caused, inter alia, by outside interference”.
It comes after an appeal from Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The unrest in the former Soviet state began after a cap on liquified petroleum gas – which many people use to power their cars – was removed, causing prices to double.
Mr Tokayev has moved to reverse the price hike but the unrest has morphed into a broader set of grievances.
There is much anger directed at former long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who quit in 2019 but remains powerful and whose family is believed to control much of the economy.
President Tokayev – apparently seeking to appease protesters – has sacked Mr Nazarbayev as head of the national security council and assumed the role himself.
A new head of the state security committee was also appointed.
President blames foreign-trained ‘terrorist’ gangs
Speaking in the early hours of Thursday, the president said foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs were behind the violence and claimed they had seized five aircraft at Almaty airport.
“Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalized, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits, therefore it is our duty… to take all possible actions to protect our state,” said Mr Tokayev.
Eight police and national guard troops were killed on Tuesday and Wednesday and more than 300 injured, said the country’s interior ministry.
There is no figure so far for civilian casualties.
Video posted online showed Almaty’s prosecutor’s building on fire, while a stream by a local blogger showed a blaze in the mayor’s office – with apparent gunshots audible.
The presidential palace was also reportedly stormed and set alight on Wednesday, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
Police fled after shooting at demonstrators, according to the report.
Elsewhere, a video showed a giant bronze statue of former president Nazarbayev strung with ropes in an effort to pull it down.
The woman who posted the clip said it was in the eastern city of Taldykorgan.
Water cannon and stun grenades were also fired by police in Aqtobe, in the country’s west, with protesters filmed chanting “Old man, go away!”.
In the flashpoint of Almaty, Reuters journalists reported “thousands” of people moving towards the city centre on Wednesday – some on a large truck.
One resident described it as “complete anarchy” and said most of the protesters he had met came from the poorer outskirts of the city and nearby towns and villages.
Watchdog Netblocks has also reported internet blackouts in the country – but TASS said by early on Thursday service was back up in Almaty.
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