Day six of Kazakhstan’s unrest Police are ordered to shoot to kill, the president doubles down on ‘terrorists and killers’ rhetoric, and rumors spread about Nazarbayev
Police and soldiers have “essentially” restored order across Kazakhstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared on Friday. “The local authorities control the situation, but terrorists are still using weapons and damaging people’s property. That is why counterterrorist actions will continue until the complete destruction of the militants,” Tokayev said at a meeting on January 7 with the nation’s law enforcement heads.
In a subsequent televised address, Tokayev said he’s instructed both the police and the military to shoot to kill any “terrorists” engaged in rioting. Officials have been ordered to open fire without warning. The president explained that peaceful negotiations are impossible with “criminals and killers.” “We’ve had to confront armed and trained bandits — both domestic and foreign. These people are bandits and terrorists,” Tokayev repeated in his national address (his third since the start of mass protests, which began six days earlier against suddenly doubled fuel prices).
According to Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry, all city and district administrative buildings and local police stations are again under the authorities’ control. The nation remains under a “critical red” terrorism warning, says the Kazakhstani news agency Tengrinews.
All passenger and freight rail transportation has been restored, while operations at Almaty International Airport were suspended until noon on January 7. Russian peacekeepers helped local riot police secure the airport completely, Defense Ministry officials in Moscow confirmed on Friday.
There are now at least 70 checkpoints established across the country, including six around the capital, Nur-Sultan. In Almaty, the armed forces are guarding critical, strategic infrastructure and “cleansing” the streets of resistance. Internet access across Kazakhstan briefly faltered again on the morning of January 7 but soon resumed.
Police officials say 26 “criminals” participating in protests have been killed, so far. “In total, more than 3,000 criminals have been arrested, 26 have been liquidated [sic], and another 18 armed terrorists have been injured,” the Interior Ministry announced on Friday. Later in the day, the state TV channel Khabar-24 reported that 3,706 people have been arrested. Kazakhstani officials say 18 police officers and soldiers have died in riots this week and another 748 have suffered injuries.
Dauren Abaev, the president’s deputy chief of staff, said on Friday that police officers and National Guardsmen did not open fire on protesters initially, “however, provocateurs’ calls for violence and unrest later drowned out the voices of peaceful demonstrators.” Abaev says the crowds in Almaty are now “led by bandits and terrorists carrying weapons, pipes, clubs, and Molotov cocktails” who are looting gun shops, seizing police radios, and ransacking the city’s administrative buildings and television studios. Abaev also claims that there are snipers firing at police officers among the “terrorists” in Almaty.
Late on January 6, Almaty witnessed more clashes with police and fighting in the streets. Eyewitnesses reported gunfire near Republic Square, outside the City Hall. Around 11 p.m., a TV crew from the Almaty network came under fire near the city’s center; the crew’s driver was killed, and one journalist was injured. Scattered gunfire continued into the morning. “At Republic Square, a group of extremists has barricaded the Mir television building. There are casualties and the bodies of the dead are lying in the street,” Khabar-24 reported in a live broadcast. A fire broke out in the building near daybreak. Dauren Abaev says demonstrators also made two (unsuccessful) attempts to seize the Almaty Television Tower.
On January 6, the Attorney General’s Office also launched a criminal investigation into the organization and execution of riots, as well as a preliminary probe into acts of alleged terrorism. Anyone convicted of these offenses faces between eight years’ incarceration and a lifetime prison sentence.
In a post it later deleted, the Kazakhstani news outlet Orda reported that Nursultan Nazarbayev’s nephew, former National Security Committee First Deputy Chairman Samit Abish, has been arrested in Almaty. The same outlet says Nazarbayev and his immediate family have fled Kazakhstan. Throughout the week’s unrest, both the state authorities and the national media have barely mentioned the former president, leading to rampant speculation about his current whereabouts and even whether he is still alive. State officials have even stopped referring to the capital as Nur-Sultan, which was renamed in March 2019 in the former president’s honor.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock