Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds injured during clashes in Kazakhstan, a police official from the largest city Almaty said Thursday, as troops from a Russian-led military alliance of post-Soviet states begin their operations in the Central Asian country to help quell the unrest.
At least 13 law enforcement officials died in Almaty and 353 people were injured, state-run Khabar 24 TV reported.
More than 1,000 people in different regions were injured as a result of the turmoil. Of these, almost 400 were hospitalized, with 62 people in intensive care, the Ministry of Health said, according to Khabar 24.
The violence continued on Thursday with security forces reportedly firing on protesters and explosions being heard close to Republic Square in Almaty, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
The military demanded over loudspeakers that people should leave the square and warned they would open fire, TASS reported.
“Those who are running away from the square say that [the security forces] fired shots at the rioters, and saw how some of them were definitely falling,” a source told TASS.
State news agency Sputnik Kazakhstan reported that groups of five to six people, some of whom were injured, were seen running from the the scene.
The demonstrations are the biggest challenge yet to autocratic President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s rule, with initial public anger over a rise in fuel prices expanding to wider discontent with the government over corruption, living standards, poverty and unemployment in the oil-rich, former Soviet nation, according to human rights organizations.
Agence France-Presse and Reuters, which have correspondents on the ground, reported fresh gunfire in Almaty. Gunshots and screaming were heard in footage of the overnight clashes in Almaty.
Almaty police department representative Saltanat Azirbek told state-run Khabar 24 that “dozens of attackers were liquidated” during overnight attempts to storm buildings in the city.
Azirbek urged people to stay at home as an “anti-terrorist operation” was carried out.
The city police department told Khabar 24 that weapons had been stolen from a gun store overnight. Khabar 24 reported the bodies of two officers were found beheaded, citing the commandant’s office of Almaty.
CSTO in Kazakhstan
This comes after President Tokayev appealed for the help of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – which includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – on Wednesday following days of protests across the country over spiking fuel prices.
Protests were ignited when the government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at the start of the year, but have now widened into a show of anger at the governance of the country.
At a demonstration in Almaty on Wednesday evening, a protester reiterated these concerns.”The government is rich. But all of these people here [gesturing to crowd] will have to pay the loans to the bank tomorrow,” he told CNN.
“We’re not just standing here … under difficult circumstances for nothing. We’re standing because we have something to say. We have our own pain that we want to share – and it’s not going to be pure statistics from official sources – it’s going to be people’s pain,” he added.
The CSTO said Thursday its “peacekeeping contingent” had begun to fulfil its tasks in the country, adding that Russian forces were being transferred to Kazakhstan by military aircraft.