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Kazakhstan calls for Russian help as unrest spreads
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 06 - 01 - 2022

Russian-led military troops will be deployed to help "stabilize" Kazakhstan amid anti-government demonstrations, BBC reported.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for support from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as nationwide unrest escalates.
The presidential residence in Kazakhstan's largest city was engulfed in flames on Wednesday. Armed protesters also reportedly stormed another government building in Almaty, despite harsh measures to quell the trouble.
Tokayev has dismissed the government and declared a state of emergency. News sites became inaccessible, and the country is said to be experiencing an internet blackout.
The protests were first sparked by rising fuel prices, but have broadened to include other political grievances.
President Tokayev claimed the unrest was the work of foreign-trained "terrorist gangs".
However, Kate Mallinson, an expert on Central Asia at the foreign affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said the protests are "symptomatic of very deep-seated and simmering anger and resentment at the failure of the Kazhak government to modernize their country and introduce reforms that impact people at all levels".
Russia's Tass news agency reported that the presidential building in Almaty, where thousands of demonstrators had gathered outside, was on fire.
The city's main administration building was burning from top to bottom hours after demonstrators broke in -- many of them carrying clubs and shields according to earlier reports in Kazakh media.
Police have again used stun grenades, water cannon and tear gas against protesters on Wednesday. Demonstrations have also been reported in about a dozen other cities.
On Wednesday, Tokayev publicly demanded help from Russia and its allies to quell the unrest.
"Today I called on the heads of states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to help Kazakhstan defeat the terrorist threat," Tokayev said on state television, adding that demonstrations are led by "terrorist gangs" who have "received extensive training abroad".
He said law-breakers would be treated with "maximum severity".
Later Wednesday the CSTO's chairman, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, confirmed in a statement on Facebook that the alliance would send peacekeeping forces "for a limited period of time".
The US State Department said it is "closely following" the situation in Kazakhstan, with a spokesman urging restraint by authorities and protesters alike.
Tokayev also stated that he will remain in Nur-Sultan, the country's capital since 1997, regardless of the ongoing protests in Almaty -- the country's largest city and former capital -- and elsewhere.
The protests were sparked by a near-doubling of prices after the government abandoned price controls, despite Kazakhstan's extensive gas and oil reserves and mineral wealth.
But the size and rapid spread of the unrest suggest wider discontent. There is anger over poor living conditions in some areas, as well as 30 years under the rule of the same party since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
President Tokayev is only the second person to lead Kazakhstan since it declared independence in 1991. His election, in 2019, was condemned by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as showing scant respect for democratic standards.
Much of the anger on the streets, however, seems to have been aimed at his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has held a powerful national security role since stepping down. On Wednesday, he was fired in a bid to subdue the growing unrest.
Protesters had been heard chanting Nazarbayev's name, while a video showing people attempting to pull down a giant bronze statue of the former leader has been shared online.
According to BBC Monitoring, the now-dismantled monument appears to have stood in Taldykorgan, Nazarbayev's home region.
Staff at Kazakhstan's main airport had to flee anti-government demonstrators, who have also targeted government buildings.
Protesters gathered at the mayor's office in Almaty before eventually storming it. Videos on social media showed a plume of smoke rising from the building, while gunfire could also be heard.
The city's police chief, Kanat Taimerdenov, said "extremists and radicals" had attacked 500 civilians and ransacked hundreds of businesses.
Water cannon were used against protesters in the western city of Aktobe. There are reports that security forces have sided with protesters in some places.
However, getting a clear picture of what is happening in the central Asian nation is proving difficult. The interior ministry released figures of reported casualties among the security forces, but there were no equivalent reports of any injuries or deaths among protesters amid what monitoring groups have described as a "nation-scale internet blackout".
Other attempts to end the protests, which began on Sunday when the government lifted the price cap on liquefied petroleum gas which many people use to power their cars, causing it to double in cost, have been made.
As well as Nazarbayev's dismissal, the entire government has resigned.
Meanwhile, Russia has called for "dialogue" in Kazakhstan amid the unprecedented demonstrations.
"We are closely following events in our neighboring and sister country," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
"We support a peaceful solution to all problems within the legal and constitutional framework and through dialogue, not through street riots and violation of laws," it added.
Kazakhstan is of crucial importance to Russia as an economic partner and the former president is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Temur Umarov, scientific adviser to the Carnegie Moscow Centre, told Euronews the protests are about more than fuel prices. He expects dialogue to take place, as long as the unrest does not get out of hand.
"Reforms will be on their way. In fact, we've been seeing them for the last few years. It's a trend that would have happened without the protests, but now it will accelerate and the authorities will go for them even more," Umarov explained.
"But they are possible only if the protests will not cross some line over which the authorities will think they are in some kind of stalemate. And then we will see violence."
"Kazakhstan is not a democracy, but if we compare Kazakhstan's regime with other Central Asian regimes (in Uzbekistan, for example, or in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the ever-changing Kyrgyzstan) we can see that Kazakhstan is more or less democratic compared to other countries," he concluded. — Agencies


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