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Kazakh president orders use of force against protesters

January 7, 2022

After days of violent protests, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has vowed to destroy "armed bandits." He gave "special thanks" to Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops to quell the unrest.

A Kazakhstan's soldier stands atop of a military vehicle at a check point in Kazakhstan
Calm has reportedly been restored across Kazakhstan amid heavy security presence Image: Russian Television/AP/picture alliance

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Friday declared that constitutional order was "mainly restored" after the unprecedented unrest in recent days. 

Protests had erupted over surging fuel prices and escalated into an uprising against corruption. Violent clashes between protesters and security forces left dozens of demonstrators and forces killed.

In a televised address on Friday, Tokayev said he had given security forces orders to open fire without warning if there were further disturbances.

The president made reference to "20,000 bandits" who had attacked the country's largest city of Almaty and vowed to destroy them.

"Terrorists continue to damage property [...] and use weapons against civilians. I have given the order to law enforcement to shoot to kill without warning," Tokayev said in his third televised address to the nation this week.

"A shoot-to-kill-order is the worst thing that could happen at this time," Hugh Williamson, director of Human Rights Watch's Europe & Central Asia Division, told DW. "Troops and police should try to deescalate the situation rather than to fuel more escalation."

Reid Standish from Radio Free Europe told DW that the president's announcement is likely to escalate the situation.

"It's certainly likely to inflame the situation. It's definitely going to be taken seriously. All last night there was fighting taking place across Almaty, gunshots could be heard across the city until the morning, so that speech shows that the government is digging in deep and they have no qualms about using force against people who are on the streets."

'Criminals' killed

In an earlier statement on Friday, Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry said "26 armed criminals were killed and 18 were injured."

Authorities said there have also been 3,000 arrests, according to state broadcaster Khabar 24, citing the Interior Ministry.

Security has been bolstered across the country, with 70 checkpoints operating around the clock.

On Thursday, authorities said 18 security personnel had been killed, including one who had been beheaded. 

Journalist Bruce Pannier told DW that the figures of those killed were probably far higher than the ones provided by the government, and that "anti-terrorist operations" were taking place across the country.

"They're probably low after last night. The information I saw today suggested that there was what they're calling 'anti-terrorist operations' going on in other cities in the south, in Shymkent and also in the Kyzylorda province, or Oblast too," Pannier said.

"So they're expanding their security operation — there were deaths reported in those areas that I just mentioned, and those are just the ones that we know," he added.

Special thanks to Russia

Tokayev thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops and said a Russian-led peacekeeping force would be in the country on a short-term basis. 

Putin discussed the situation with Tokayev in several phone calls during the crisis, the Kremlin said on Friday.

Tokayev had earlier confirmed that a peacekeeping force from the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization had arrived in Kazakhstan.

President of Kazakhstan, pictured in a televised address
The Kazakh president has issued a shoot-to-kill order and called those involved in clashes 'bandits'Image: Kazakhstan's Presidential Press Service/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Russian news agency Interfax cited Russia's Defense Ministry as saying that military units were flying into Kazakhstan "round the clock" and were in control of the airport in Almaty, which was captured by protesters on Wednesday. 

According to the Kazakh government, the organization's forces have been arriving in the country but have not been involved in the "elimination of militants."

Moscow said this week that the organization's forces would number 2,500. The deployment came after an appeal for assistance from Tokayev.

The contingent is made up of armed forces from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Meanwhile, the TASS news agency cited local media reports that some airports would gradually begin operations again at 3 p.m. local time (09:00 UTC).

West slams violence

The White House questioned the need for Russian forces in Kazakhstan on Friday, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning Kazakhstan that "once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave." 

He also called on authorities in Kazakhstan to "adhere to international human rights standards," after Tokayev's shoot-to-kill order came down.

Germany called for deescalation in Kazakhstan after Tokayev's speech.

"Violence can never be an appropriate response," said government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann, adding that Germany "calls on all parties to deescalate and reach a peaceful solution to the situation."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, speaking alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, called for an end to the violence.

"Citizen's rights and security are fundamental and must be guaranteed. I call for an end to the violence and for restraint. The EU is ready to help where it can," von der Leyen told reporters in Paris. Macron echoed the EU chief's comments.

China hails 'strong measures'

China's President Xi Jinping said the response for the Kazakh government was "highly responsible," official press agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

In a message to Tokayev, Xi said: "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 you country and you people."

kb/fb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)