Kazakhstan’s authoritarian leader has ordered the country’s security forces to open fire without warning amid a desperate and violent crackdown on protesters.
It comes after demonstrations against the government snowballed from anger over a fuel price hike into the most serious unrest the Central Asian nation has faced in decades.
Speaking in a televised address Friday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he had told security forces to “fire without warning,” the BBC reported, and thatthose who failed to surrender would be “destroyed.” Up to 20,000 “bandits” had attacked government buildings in the business capital of Almaty and were destroying the property, Tokayev added.
Kazakhstan’s president also thanked the leaders of Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Turkey for their support.
A Russia-led security alliance, known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, reportedly deployed around 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan on Thursday. The alliance includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing on Thursday that the U.S. had questions about whether CSTO troops were legitimately invited into Kazakhstan, adding that Washington will be “watching very closely” for any violations of human rights.
More than 1,000 people have been injured in the protests since Sunday, Kazakhstan’s health ministry said on Thursday, amid reports that dozens of police and protesters have been killed.
Videos on social media in recent days showed demonstrators facing off against hundreds of security forces in riot gear, and crowds pulling down the statue of longtime strongman and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Nazarbayev, who stepped down from the presidency in 2019 but still holds significant power, was removed on Wednesday from his position as head of the country’s powerful security council by Tokayev — his hand-picked successor.
Kazakhstan’s entire cabinet has resigned, but this has not quelled the protesters.
— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.