ALMATI, Kazakhstan – A Russian-led security coalition has sent troops into Kazakhstan to quell deadly violence amid reports that dozens of protesters and police have been killed in the unrest sweeping the country.
On Thursday, after government buildings were torched in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Facebook that an unspecified number of peacekeepers would travel to Kazakhstan.
The Russian state media, Interfax and TASS, quoted an Almaty police spokesman as saying that dozens of rioters in the city had been “eliminated”.
Reuters reported that 13 members of the security forces were killed in clashes with protesters in the city. Quoted from Kazakh State TV.
Police or government officials could not immediately be reached for comment or further details about the reports.
Initially sparked by anger over rising fuel prices, the protests quickly spread to face broader opposition to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who retained significant power despite resigning in 2019 after ruling for nearly three decades.
Nazarbayev, 81, is widely seen as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name. His family is believed to control a large part of the economy, the largest in Central Asia. Nothing has been seen or heard of him since the protests began.
The Central Asian country’s reputation for stability under Nazarbayev helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment in the oil and mineral industries.
But a younger generation is demanding the liberation that other Soviet states experienced. The protests were the worst in more than a decade in Kazakhstan, a country five times the size of France and a population of about 19 million.
In an apparent attempt to quell public anger, Tokayev fired Nazarbayev as head of the powerful Security Council on Wednesday, taking matters into his own hands. He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, succeeding the KGB in the Soviet era, and dismissed Nazarbayev’s nephew from the committee’s second position.
Tokayev’s government also resigned.
The Russian Interfax news agency quoted an official as saying that the airport was later cleared of protesters. Reuters could not independently confirm the news.
Earlier, riot police used tear gas and grenades against protesters in Almaty, but then appeared to withdraw.
Loading NBC News app For breaking news and politics
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Tokayev said in his second televised address in hours, he appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance that includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
He said that foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons, and seized five planes, including foreign ones, at Almaty airport.
“It is undermining the integrity of the state and most importantly an attack on our compatriots who are asking me … to help them urgently,” Tokayev said.
Almaty was attacked, destroyed and vandalized, the residents of Almaty became victims of the attacks of terrorists and bandits. Therefore it is our duty… to take all possible measures to protect our state.”
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that security has been beefed up around the main facilities at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia uses for space launches.
An Almaty resident who mingled with the protesters on Wednesday said most of those he met appeared to come from the city’s poor suburbs or nearby villages.
The resident said that vodka was being distributed in the main square and some people were debating whether to head towards the town market or a wealthy area for possible looting.
“There is a lot of chaos in the street,” he said.
Footage posted online showed protesters chanting under a giant bronze statue of Nazarbayev pulled by ropes, in an apparent attempt to tear it down. A woman who posted the tape said it was filmed in the eastern city of Taldykorgan.
Early on Wednesday, Reuters journalists saw thousands of protesters pressing towards downtown Almaty, while in Aktobe, protesters gathered chanting: “Old man, leave!” An online video showed police using water cannons and sound bombs near the mayor’s office.
A state of emergency was declared in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and the western province of Mangistau. The Internet is closed.
After accepting the cabinet’s resignation, Tokayev ordered the acting ministers to reverse the rise in fuel prices, which doubled the cost of liquefied petroleum gas, which is widely used for cars in Kazakhstan.
The Kremlin said it expected Kazakhstan, a close ally, to quickly solve its internal problems, warning other countries not to interfere. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Russian accusations that the United States had incited the unrest were untrue.