Heavy gunfire reported in Kazakhstan as president seeks to regain control

Government security forces are seeing to quell mass protests.

January 07, 2022, 11:55 AM

Kazakhstan's president said that uprisings and protests throughout the country are stabilizing after heavy gunfire was reported through Thursday night in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city.

Government security forces are trying to regain control after mass protests rocked the country.

PHOTO: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks during a televised address to the nation following the protests triggered by fuel price increase in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Jan. 7, 2022.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks during a televised address to the nation following the protests triggered by fuel price increase in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Jan. 7, 2022. Kazakhstan's president rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of unprecedented unrest, vowing to destroy "armed bandits" and authorizing his forces to shoot to kill without warning.
President Of Kazakhstan website via Reuters

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has been vocal about quelling the unrest triggered by a sudden hike in fuel prices -- unrest that has snowballed into unprecedented demonstrations against the authoritarian regime that has ruled Kazakhstan since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The turmoil prompted Tokayev to call in foreign troops from a Russian-led military alliance for help.

Gunfire was also reported in Almaty Friday by reporters on the ground. Military units and police, backed with armored vehicles, have engaged protesters since Wednesday night in parts of the city, though an internet blackout has made it difficult to get a clear picture on the ground. The interior ministry said Friday that at least 26 protesters and 18 police officers had been killed, with hundreds injured.

PHOTO: Protesters hold a long banner which reads, "We are the people, not terrorists" at the Republic Square in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, Jan 7, 2022, as protests over a hike in energy prices spun out of control.
Protesters hold a long banner which reads, "We are the people, not terrorists" at the Republic Square in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, Jan 7, 2022, as protests over a hike in energy prices spun out of control.
EPN/Newscom

In a televised address Friday, Tokayev said that a "counter-terrorism operation" was ongoing in the country. He said he had ordered the army and police to "shoot to kill" without warning, those he referred to as "terrorists and bandits."

"The counter-terrorism operation is continuing," Tokayev said. "The fighters have not laid down their arms, they are continuing to commit crimes and are preparing for them. The battle with them needs to be fought to the end. Anyone who doesn't surrender, will be destroyed."

Russian paratrooper units continued to arrive in Kazakhstan on Friday, following Tokayev's appeal earlier in the week to a Moscow-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to help restore order. Russia's military said its troops had secured Almaty's airport, which was overrun by protesters two days ago -- taking "full control" of it alongside Kazakhstani security forces.

The precise number of Russian troops deploying is not known, but believed to be a few thousand, along with several hundred more from Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

Dauren Abayev, a senior aide to Tokayev, told state television that the foreign "peacekeeping" troops would not be used in combat roles, but would only guard key government facilities.

Tokayev said the Russian troops would be in the country for only for "a short period." In his address, he thanked the alliance, but said he wanted to give "special thanks" to Russia's president Vladimir Putin. "He responded to my request very fast and, more importantly, in a warm and friendly manner," Tokayev said.

PHOTO: Military vehicles wait to be loaded onto Russian military planes at an airfield in Russia, Jan. 7, 2022, in an image from Russian television.
Military vehicles wait to be loaded onto Russian military planes at an airfield in Russia, Jan. 7, 2022, in an image from Russian television. Over 70 cargo planes are being deployed in Russia's peacekeeping mission in Kazakhstan according to the Defense Ministry chief spokesman's briefing on Friday, after the worst street protests since the country gained independence three decades ago.
RU-RTR Russian Television via AP

There was no clear picture of the protests in Kazakhstan on Friday. Videos on social media and local reports suggested crowds of protesters did gather overnight in some cities.

Videos posted by residents showed traffic moving relatively normal through the city's center during the day Friday, but with the frequent sound of gun shots in the distance.

Local independent media channels reported outbreaks of gunfire in two other cities, Taraz and Taldykurgan, where police claimed one man was killed when a group of 20 men in camouflage attacked a prison.

PHOTO: Servicemen and their military vehicles block a street in central Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 7, 2022, as violence erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices.
Servicemen and their military vehicles block a street in central Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 7, 2022, as violence erupted following protests over hikes in fuel prices.
Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP via Getty Images

The capital city of Nur-Sultan was reported as calm by journalists there, although there were lines for food and banks across the country as soem services have been closed by order of the government. The presidential residence in the city was shown in video reports to be cordoned off by police.

Tokayev also expressed gratitude to Kazakhstan's citizens for "staying loyal to the law and to the country." He said that "in light of the stabilization of the situation," he would restore internet connection in some regions for "a limited period." He also said that in regions that remained stable, a state of emergency would be "gradually" lifted, though he did not say when.

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