In a provocative public speech on Friday, Tokayev said the unrest that began earlier this week as protests against rising fuel prices had been orchestrated by well-trained “terrorist bandits”, both inside and out. outside the country. Kazakh state media reported on Friday that 18 security personnel and 26 “armed criminals” were killed in violent protests. Over 3,000 people have been arrested.
Tokayev said the situation had “stabilized” in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and that “the establishment of a state of emergency is working.”
“But terrorists continue to damage public and private property and use weapons against citizens,” he said. “I ordered the police and the army to open fire to kill without warning.”
The speech attempted to undermine the narrative that the protests were the product of popular unrest that became increasingly destructive and deadly. Tokayev said the violence was the product of a well-organized enemy, armed with sleeper cells carrying out “terrorist attacks” and “specialists trained in ideological sabotage, skillfully using disinformation or” forgery “and capable of manipulating the people’s mood “.
“Their actions showed the presence of a clear plan of attacks against military, administrative and social installations in almost all areas, coherent coordination of actions, high combat readiness and bestial cruelty,” Tokayev said. “They must be destroyed.”
However, several protesters who spoke to international media rejected this characterization.
“We are neither thugs nor terrorists,” said one woman. “The only thing that flourishes here is corruption”
Another man told CNN that people “want the truth”.
“The government is rich, but all of these people here have loans to pay. We have our pain and we want to share it,” he said.
The protests are the biggest challenge to date for the autocratic regime, with initial public anger over rising fuel prices spreading to wider discontent with the government over corruption, living standards, poverty and unemployment in the oil-rich nation – all of which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say.
In his speech, Tokayev stressed that peaceful assembly was legalized in 2020 to promote democracy. However, he said calls from abroad for a peaceful solution were “nonsense.”
“What kind of negotiations can there be with criminals, murderers? Tokayev added.
Tokayev said a contingent from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC), a Russian-led military alliance made up of former Soviet states, had arrived in the country “for a short period” to perform the duties. defense and support. The organization’s secretary general, Stanislav Zas, told the official Russian news agency Sputnik that around 3,600 CSTO members would be deployed to Kazakhstan to protect government and strategic facilities and help maintain law and order. Russian state news agency TASS reported that a brigade of airborne forces had arrived in Kazakhstan.
Tokayev thanked the heads of the CSTO countries for their support and expressed “special gratitude” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for having “very quickly and, above all, in a friendly manner, warmly reacted to my call” for a contingent of the CSTO.
The Kazakh leader also thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping, the presidents of other CSTO member countries, the presidents of Uzbekistan, Turkey and “the leaders of the UN and other international organizations for their words of support. “.
Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world in terms of land mass and the largest economy in Central Asia, has often boasted of its stability in a region that has seen its share of conflict.
Even before its independence in 1991, the country’s political scene was dominated by one man, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The longtime president and former Communist Party official ruled for nearly three decades before stepping down in 2019. His autocratic method of governance sparked international concern and saw authorities crack down harshly on protests, detractors of prisons and stifle press freedom, according to global rights groups. Critics accused Nazarbayev of appointing family members and allies to key government positions and his family is believed to control much of the Kazakh economy, Reuters reported.
Amnesty International said the protests are “a direct consequence of the authorities’ widespread crackdown on basic human rights”.
“For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent, leaving the Kazakh people in a state of turmoil and despair,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty Director for Eastern Europe and the United Nations. Central Asia in a press release.