ALMATY: Kazakhstan’s president on Friday said he had ordered his forces to shoot-to-kill to deal with disturbances from those he called bandits and terrorists, a move that comes after days of extremely violent protests in the former Soviet nation.
Security forces appeared to be in control of the streets of the main city Almaty on Friday morning but gunfire could still be heard after days of unrest in which dozens of people have been killed and public buildings ransacked and torched.
“The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them. The fight against them must be pursued to the end. Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed,” President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a televised address.
“I have given the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to shoot to kill without warning,” he added. He also blasted calls for talks with the protesters made by some other countries as ‘nonsense’. “What negotiations can be held with criminals, murderers?” Tokayev said.
Russia’s defence ministry, cited by Interfax, said more than 70 planes were flying round the clock to bring Russian troops into Kazakhstan, and they were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, recaptured on Thursday from protesters.
Demonstrations that began as a response to a fuel price hike have swelled into a broad movement against the government and ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.
He turned over the presidency to Tokayev three years ago but his family is widely believed to have retained power in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
The interior ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated”, while 18 police and national guard servicemembers had been killed since the start of the protests, figures that appeared not to have been updated since Thursday.
Widespread unrest has been reported in a number of other cities across the vast country of 19 million people. The internet has been shut off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the violence.
In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases. Tokayev has vacillated between trying to mollify the protesters, including accepting the resignation of his government, and promising harsh measures to quell the unrest, which he blamed on “terrorist bands.”
In what was seen as one such measure, the president has called on a Russia-led military alliance for help. The alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and has started deploying troops to Kazakhstan for a peacekeeping mission.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was keeping a close eye on the Russian-led deployment. It would be watching for any violations of human rights and “any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions”.
Tokayev’s administration said the Russians had not been engaged in combat or the “elimination of militants”.