Kazakhstan declares a state of emergency in several cities as fuel price protests erupt


Kazakhstan declared emergency in the capital, main city and provinces on Wednesday after protesters stormed and set fire to public buildings, the worst unrest in more than a decade in a tightly controlled country that promotes an image of stability. .

The cabinet resigned, but that failed to stifle the anger of protesters, who have taken to the streets in response to rising fuel prices since the start of the new year.

A live Instagram broadcast by a Kazakh blogger showed a burning fire in the Almati mayor’s office, with apparent audible features nearby. Videos posted online also showed the nearby prosecutor’s office on fire.

Earlier on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw thousands of protesters pushing towards the city center of Almaty, some of them in a large truck. Security forces, with helmets and riot shields, fired tear gas and flash grenades.

The city’s police chief said Almaty was under attack by “extremists and radicals” who had beaten 500 civilians and looted hundreds of businesses.

This captured image of the video shows protesters near an administrative building during a rally over rising energy prices in Almaty. Protesters stormed the office of the mayor of Kazakhstan’s largest city. (AFP / Getty Images)

A presidential decree announced a two-week state of emergency and a night curfew in the capital Nur-Sultan, citing “a serious and direct threat to the security of citizens.” A state of emergency was also declared in Almaty and the western province of Mangistau, where protests first erupted in recent days.

Authorities reportedly shut down the country on the Internet as the riots spread. Netblocks, a site that monitors global Internet connectivity, said the country was “in the midst of a nationwide Internet blackout.”

The government resigns

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday accepted the government’s resignation following protests, which have spread from the provinces to major cities since the price limits for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) were lifted on New Year’s Eve.

Speaking with the cabinet in office, Tokayev ordered that price increases be reversed and new limits be placed on the cost of other fuels.

The government said the regulated price was causing losses for producers and needed to be liberalized, but Tokayev acknowledged the measure had been wrong.

Kazakh law enforcement officers formed a wall in Almaty to prevent protesters from advancing. (Pavel Mikheyev / Reuters)

The riots are the biggest test to date of 68-year-old Tokayev, who took power in 2019 as the hand-picked successor of Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former Communist Party leader who had become the longest-serving ruler. in the former Soviet Union when he resigned. . Nazarbayev, 81, still retains substantial authority as head of the ruling party and chairman of the security council.

Kazakhstan’s reputation for political stability under three decades of one-man rule by former leader Nazarbayev has helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment in its oil and metal industries, but the pandemic it has caused economic pressures, as elsewhere.

Tokayev said on Wednesday that he had taken over as head of the country’s Security Council and vowed to act “with the utmost harshness”.

Development of injuries

Atameken, Kazakhstan’s business pressure group, said its members reported attacks on banks, shops and restaurants.

The city’s health department said 190 people had called for medical help, including 137 police officers. City officials asked residents to stay home.

The Interior Ministry said government buildings were also attacked overnight in the southern cities of Shymkent and Taraz, with 95 policemen injured in clashes. Police have arrested more than 200 people.

A video posted online showed police using a water cannon and stun grenades against protesters in front of the office of the mayor of Aktobe, the capital of another western province.

The size of the crowd in Almaty is shown on Tuesday afternoon. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. (Ruslan Pryanikov / AFP / Getty Images)

Kazakhstan has been struggling with rising price pressures. Inflation closed at nine percent year-on-year at the end of last year, its highest level in more than five years, forcing the central bank to raise interest rates to 9.75 percent.

Some analysts said the protests were aimed at more entrenched issues.

“I think there is an underlying stream of frustration in Kazakhstan over the lack of democracy,” said Tim Ash, an emerging market strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.

“Young and internet-savvy Kazakhs, especially in Almaty, probably want freedoms similar to those of Ukrainians, Georgians, Moldovans, Kyrgyz and Armenians, who have also let go of their frustrations over the years with authoritarian regimes.”

European and international election observers continually condemned the legitimacy of the presidential election in Kazakhstan under Nazarbayev, who regularly won with more than 95% of the vote. Irregularities in voting and arrests of opponents of the government were also observed in the 2019 vote, which Tokayev won with a more modest total of 71%.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that Kazakhstan could solve its own problems and that it was important that no one interfered from outside, the RIA news agency reported.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was closely monitoring the situation in its southern neighbor and that it was counting on “normalization as soon as possible.”

“We advocate the peaceful resolution of all issues within the constitutional and legal framework and dialogue, rather than through street riots and violations of the law,” he said.