Protests in Kazakhstan that began last weekend over higher fuel prices turned deadly early Thursday. "Dozens of attackers have been eliminated" or "liquidated," Saltanat Azirbek, spokeswoman for the police in Almaty, said Thursday morning on state news channel Khaber-24, and "their identities are being established." The Interior Ministry says at least eight security officers have also been killed in the five days of protests, the biggest since Kazakhstan gained independence from the collapses Soviet Union 30 years ago.
Azirbek said the violence flared as "extremist forces" attempted to storm government buildings in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, an oil-rich Central Asian republic of about 19 million people. Getting information about the demonstrations has been difficult due to a nationwide internet blackout imposed Wednesday, according to monitoring groups.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who fired his government and declared a two-week state of emergency in response to the protests, requested backup from the Russian-led military alliance the Collective Security Treaty Organization. And CSTO chairman Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian prime minister, said the alliance will send in Russian-backed "peacekeepers" for "a limited time period" to "stabilize and resolve the situation." Some Russian "peacekeepers" and paratroopers are already on the ground, The Washington Post reports.
"Grievances have been accumulating over years, and with [founding President Nursultan] Nazarbayev's resignation in 2019, people felt the promise of change and started pushing for change in various ways," Nargis Kassenova, a Central Asia expert at Harvard, told the Post, adding that she has seen references to a "Kazakh Spring." Russian and Chinese government-aligned commentators have called it an attempted "color revolution" and, without evidence, blame the U.S.
State Department Ned Price said the U.S. condemns "the acts of violence and destruction of property" and calls for "restraint by both the authorities and protestors."
"The speed at which the protests turned violent took many by surprise, both in Kazakhstan and in the wider region," writes BBC Russian correspondent Olga Ivshina. "The analysts I spoke to say that the Kazakh government clearly underestimated how angry the population was, and that these protests were not surprising in a country with no electoral democracy — people need to take to the streets to be heard."