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Kazakhstan president confirms takeover of Almaty airport

January 5, 2022

The entire country is under a state of emergency as unrest over rising fuel prices has turned deadly. President Tokayev has called for help from the CSTO, a post-Soviet military alliance which includes Russia.

Riot police block a street to stop demonstrators during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
A heavy police presence deployed on Wednesday amid renewed protests, even as authorities tried to calm people with concessionsImage: Vladimir Tretyakov/AP/picture alliance

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Almaty airport had been seized by what he described as "terrorists" on Wednesday evening.

He also said five airplanes had been hijacked.

"Terrorist gangs are seizing large infrastructure facilities, in particular in the Almaty airport, five planes, including foreign planes," he said. "Almaty has been attacked, destroyed and vandalized."

He also said he had appealed for help to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Early Thursday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Facebook that CSTO peacekeepers would be sent to Kazakhstan for a limited time to help stabilize the situation. 

According to the Kazakh interior ministry, at least eight security forces' members have been killed. No figures were released on civilian casualties.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tokayev warned there would be a "tough" response to unrest that continued to rock the central Asian country.

The United States State Department condemned the violence and called on protesters and authorities to exercise restraint, calling Kazakhstan a "valued partner."

What has Tokayev said so far?

In an address on Wednesday evening that was aired on state channels, Tokayev said he would do "everything possible" to "protect the interests" of residents of the capital, residents of Almaty and other cities, "who have become victims of terrorist aggression."

He stressed that "this is a very difficult page in the history of the state."

"Many things have to be studied — how it happened and why. But the main thing now is to protect our country, to protect our citizens," Tokayev concluded.

Earlier in the day, in a message shared among Russian media, Tokayev said: "There have been deaths and injuries. The situation threatens the security of all residents of Almaty, and that cannot be tolerated."

Tokayev residence ablaze, internet blocked

There have been violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators demanding an end to spiking fuel prices, with a residence of Tokayev's in the capital being set on fire, according to local media.

Tokayev, meanwhile, has taken control of the country's powerful security council from his presidential predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Elsewhere in Kazakhstan, in the cities of Alma-Ata and Aktau, some police units took the side of the protesters, according to DW Russian.

Map of Kazakhstan

Rising fuel prices spark unrest

On January 1, prices for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is used to power many vehicles as it has been kept cheaper than gasoline, roughly doubled as the government concluded a shift away from price controls.

The move prompted repeated demonstrations in both Almaty and the capital Nur-Sultan.

Although the unrest was triggered by the price rises, there were signs of broader political demands in a country still under the shadow of three decades of Nazarbayev's rule.

He stepped down as president in 2019 but retained authority as ruling party boss and head of a powerful security council.

Kazakh protesters torch public buildings

Also on Wednesday, demonstrators broke into the mayor's office in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city.

The demonstrators who convened on the office in Almaty were carrying clubs and shields, according to the Kazakh news site Zakon. Police fired stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd as people pushed through metal barricades in the street.

Prime Minister Askar Mamin's government has resigned and Tokayev declared a state of emergency in Almaty, imposing an overnight curfew and limiting access to the city.

Kazakhstan also reimposed temporary caps on LPG prices. The emergency measure was extended to the entire country later on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the United States has refuted Russian accusations that Washington had instigated the unrest. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the suggestion was "absolutely false."

Police blame 'extremists' for clashes

Police Chief Kanat Taimerdenov said in a statement that "extremists and radicals" were behind the protests, accusing demonstrators of attacking at least 500 civilians and ransacking businesses.

National guard and army units have joined the police to secure the city, Taimerdenov said.

More than 200 people have been arrested, Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry said early on Wednesday.

jsi,lo,es/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)