Dozens of demonstrators have been reported dead in Kazakhstan as protests turned to bloodshed Thursday and Russia sent in paratroopers in a dangerous bid to crush the uprising.
Gunfire erupted anew Thursday afternoon in the main square in the largest city, Almaty, according to local reports, with TASS news agency citing witnesses to report multiple deaths. There was no immediate confirmation of the fatalities, however.
The flare-up comes after police in the city said “dozens of attackers were liquidated” overnight as they tried to storm government buildings, referring to demonstrators. The local police chief was quoted in local media calling the protesters “extremists and radicals.”
State TV reported that more than a dozen members of law enforcement were dead, two of whom were said to have been decapitated, according to Reuters. At least 2,000 people have reportedly been arrested.
Banks have been shut down across the nation, flights into the country have been halted, and residents inside Almaty have been cut off from the rest of the world as the internet was shut off, making the full extent of the chaos unclear.
Video posted by a local blogger showed the mayor’s office ablaze, along with a nearby prosecutor’s office, both of which lit up the sky as gunfire and sirens could be heard in the background.
Russia’s foreign ministry urged any citizens in Kazakhstan to remain indoors and claimed outside forces were behind the chaos.
“We view the recent events in a friendly country as an attempt, inspired from the outside, to undermine the security and integrity of the state by force, using trained and organized armed formations,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, echoing rhetoric frequently used by the Kremlin to claim popular protests are actually Western-led attempts to destabilize the region.
The escalation in violence comes after the army was called in to stamp out the protests, which arose from anger over the end of price controls on liquefied petroleum gas, which caused consumer prices to soar. But the unrest soon snowballed into wider anti-government protests, with demonstrators raging against Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s iron-fisted leader who ruled for three decades until he stepped down in 2019, only to retain power with his role as head of the country’s security council.
Demonstrators have directed their ire at him with chants of, “Old man, go away!”
Nazarbayev was stripped of the security council post as protests spun out of control Wednesday.
But his removal did little to calm demonstrators, who have continued to rail against Nazarbayev’s handpicked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Tokayev has dubbed the demonstrators “terrorist gangs” and accused them of “undermining the integrity of the state.”
His decision Wednesday to call on Moscow for help has only fanned the flames, with many warning the move will only spread the unrest throughout the region.
On Thursday, as troops from Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan made their way in to put down the protests as part of a “peacekeeping” mission by the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, things took another turn as a group of hackers announced plans to dox the Belarussian troops involved.
The “Cyber Partisans” vowed to unmask each and every Belarussian soldier sent to Kazakhstan, Meduza reports.
Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, meanwhile, addressed protesters and urged them to “get on your knees and apologize to the troops.”
At a meeting with security officials, Lukashenko also explained his decision to send troops to the protests, saying if Kazakhstan were “given up,” it “would be such a gift to NATO, like Ukraine to America.”
A Russian lawmaker offered similar sentiments on Instagram, calling Central Asia “Russian land” and floating the idea of a referendum for Kazakh citizens on whether they want to become part of the Russian Federation.
The Daily Beast