Forces can shoot to kill to quell unrest – NBC10 Philadelphia
The Kazakh president on Friday authorized security forces to shoot to kill those involved in the unrest, opening the door to a dramatic escalation in the crackdown on anti-government protests that have turned violent.
The Central Asian nation has seen its worst street protests this week since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago, and dozens of people have been killed in the uproar. The protests began over a near doubling in the prices of one type of vehicle fuel and quickly spread across the country, reflecting wider discontent with the authoritarian regime.
In a televised address to the nation, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev used harsh rhetoric, calling those involved in the unrest “terrorists”, “bandits” and “militants” – although it is not known clearly what drove the peaceful protests to gain momentum. then sink into violence. No protest leader has emerged so far.
“I ordered the security forces and the army to shoot to kill without warning,” Tokayev said. “Those who do not surrender will be eliminated.”
In recent days, concerns have grown over the possibility of an even wider crackdown, as internet and mobile phone services were severely disrupted and sometimes completely blocked, and several airports were closed, making it difficult to know what was going on inside the country and to get pictures of the unrest. reach the outside world.
Added to these fears was Tokayev’s request for help from a Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, whose troops began arriving on Thursday.
Kazakhstan’s interior ministry announced on Friday that security forces had killed 26 protesters during the unrest, which escalated sharply on Wednesday. 26 others were injured and more than 3,800 people were arrested. A total of 18 law enforcement officers were killed and more than 700 injured.
The figures could not be independently verified, and it was not clear whether more people could have died in the melee, as protests turned extremely violent, with people storming government buildings and setting them on fire.
Further skirmishes in Almaty were reported on Friday morning. Russian state news agency Tass reported that the building occupied by the Kazakh branch of broadcaster Mir, funded by several former Soviet states, was on fire.
In other parts of the country, the unrest appeared to be subsiding. News reports on Friday morning said the internet had been partially restored in the capital, Nur-Sultan, but it was not known for how long. The authorities have also announced the resumption of previously interrupted rail services.
Almaty airport – stormed and seized earlier by protesters – was again under the control of Kazakh law enforcement and CTSO forces, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson said , Major General Igor Konashenkov. But the facility will remain closed at least until Sunday, Kazakh TV channel Khabar 24 reported, citing airport spokespersons.
Curfews remained in place in towns, and Tokayev tweeted on Friday evening that “the counterterrorism operation continues in our country,” with the police, National Guard and armed forces doing “large-scale work and well. coordinated “to restore” law and order. ”
Hours before authorizing the use of lethal force against those participating in the unrest, Tokayev said some calm had been restored, saying “the local authorities are in control.”
Tokayev has hesitated between trying to appease the protesters – including imposing a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility tariff increases – and threatening to take tough action to appease them. troubles.
As he promised a tougher response, he called on the CSTO alliance for help. A total of 2,500 troops have arrived so far, all in Almaty, Kazakh media reported, citing foreign ministry officials.
Kazakh officials have insisted that troops from the alliance, which includes several former Soviet republics, will not fight protesters and instead protect government institutions. It was not immediately clear whether the foreign troops deployed so far were involved in quelling the unrest.
The involvement of CSTO forces is an indication that Kazakhstan’s neighbors, especially Russia, fear the unrest could spread.
In his address to the nation, Tokayev reiterated his claims that “foreign actors” as well as “independent media” helped stir up the turmoil.
He provided no evidence for these claims, but such rhetoric has often been used by former Soviet nations, primarily Russia and Belarus, who have sought to quell mass anti-government protests in recent years.
Kazakhstan, which spans an area the size of Western Europe, borders Russia and China and sits atop colossal reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals that make it strategically and economically important – and the crisis has raised concerns in many quarters.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said she was following developments with “great concern”, while French President Emmanuel Macron called for a de-escalation.
In Germany, Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said officials were investigating reports of Tokayev’s firing order. From Germany’s point of view, âit must be said very clearly that the use of lethal force, with live ammunition against civilians, can only be a last resort, especially if military forces are deployed.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had “questions about the nature” of what the CSTO described as a peacekeeping mission in Kazakhstan.
âIt seems to me that the Kazakh authorities and governments certainly have the capacity to properly manage protests, to do so in a way that respects the rights of protesters while maintaining public order. So it’s not clear why they feel the need for outside help, âBlinken said.
Asked about the orders to shoot to kill Tokayev, UN spokesperson StÃ©phane Dujarric reiterated the importance of “stopping the violence” and called for respect “for human rights and international standards while restoring public order â.
“People who demonstrate must do so peacefully,” he said. “The killing of police officers and others is unacceptable. The killing of protesters is also unacceptable.”
But China appeared to be stepping up support for the Kazakh government on Friday.
Kazakhstan is a vital part of China’s âBelt and Roadâ land link with Europe, and the continuing unrest in the country could shatter Beijing’s hopes of deepening trade and political ties with the continent.
Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his condolences to Tokayev for the “large-scale riot”, praising him for “taking decisive action at critical times and quickly calming the situation”.
âAs a brother neighbor and a long-term strategic partner, China stands ready to provide the necessary support within the limits of its means to Kazakhstan to help it overcome this difficult period,â Xi said.
Despite Kazakhstan’s vast resource wealth, discontent with the poor living conditions is strong. Many Kazakhs also resent the domination of the ruling party, which holds more than 80% of seats in parliament.
Associated Press editors Jim Heintz in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Matt Lee in Washington, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.