Dozens Reported Dead in Kazakhstan, as Russian Alliance Sends Troops
MOSCOW — A Russia-led military alliance began deploying paratroopers in Kazakhstan on Thursday as part of a peacekeeping operation after a night of protests in the Central Asian country turned violent, with the police reporting that dozens of anti-government demonstrators had been killed and hundreds injured.
The peacekeeping effort, organized by a group that is Russia’s version of NATO, will be limited in time and will aim at protecting government buildings and military objects, the body said in a statement. It did not specify how many soldiers would be mobilized. Some troops have already started operating in Kazakhstan, the statement said.
Saltanat Azirbek, a police spokeswoman in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, said that dozens of people had been killed by the authorities when they tried to storm government buildings, police headquarters and district police offices, the first widespread fatalities since the protests started. That announcement came after earlier reports in the local news media that the police had opened fire on demonstrators in the oil city of Atyrau, killing at least one person.
The police warned people living near main government buildings to stay at home.
The announcement of the military deployment came after a night of violent protests swept Kazakhstan’s cities, including Almaty, where some protesters came with firearms and started looting shops and malls, according to video footage posted from the scene. They set government buildings on fire, including the city hall and the old office of the country’s president. They also captured the airport.
The authorities reported that in addition to those who had been killed, about a thousand people had been injured and up to 400 had been hospitalized. At least eight members of the security forces have been killed in the clashes, the police reported on Wednesday.
The revolt began on Sunday in western Kazakhstan as a protest against a surge in fuel prices. Even though the government said it would rescind the price increase, the protests widened, spreading across the country, with broader demands for increased political representation and improved social benefits.
The Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, issued a statement late at night, calling the protesters “a band of terrorists” who had been trained abroad. He declared Kazakhstan to be under attack and asked for intervention from the Russia-led alliance, called the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to which his country belongs.
The country’s schools have extended their winter break by a week and all commercial banks in Kazakhstan have been ordered to close. Access to the internet has also been shut off sporadically.
The scale of protests caught most Central Asian observers off guard: Kazakhstan has long been regarded one of the most successful post-Soviet states. It has by far the highest G.D.P. per capita in the region and plenty of reserves.