Kazakhstan protests: Eight killed and hundreds injured as president asks Russia for help ending unrest

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Protests across Kazakhstan have left at least eight dead and hundreds injured, officials claimed, after the presidential residence was engulfed in flames and armed protesters stormed another government building.

Demonstrations in the central Asian country turned violent on Wednesday amid anger at a rise in fuel prices.

Almaty airport was seized earlier in the day and a state of emergency declared following the worst unrest for more than a decade. The White House has said it is monitoring the unrest.

The protests began on Sunday in Zhanaozen, a city in the west, spreading across the country and on Tuesday large demonstrations broke out in the capital, Nur-Sultan.

Although they started over a near-doubling of prices for a type of liquefied gas that is widely used as vehicle fuel, the size and rapid spread of the unrest suggest they reflect wider discontent in the country that has been under the rule of the same party since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Key Points

  • Presidential residence in Kazakhstan’s largest city ‘engulfed in flames'

  • State of emergency declared as president vows to act with ‘maximum severity'

  • Kazakh president seeks help from Russia-led security bloc

16:23 , Tom Batchelor

Hello and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the continuing unrest in Kazakhstan triggered by anger at rising fuel prices and wider resentment at the country’s government.

Presidential residence in Kazakhstan’s largest city ‘engulfed in flames'

16:28 , Tom Batchelor

Protests in Kazakhstan began on 2 January and have since boiled over into violence across the country.

Here is the Associated Press report:

The presidential residence in Kazakhstan’s largest city has been engulfed in flames and armed protesters have stormed another government building, according to news reports, as demonstrations sparked by a rise in fuel prices escalated sharply.

In response to the protests, the government resigned and the president vowed to take harsh measures to quell the unrest. Late in the day on Wednesday, Kazakh news sites became inaccessible, and the global watchdog organisation NetBlocks said the country was experiencing a pervasive internet blackout.

But Russia’s Tass news agency reported from Kazakhstan that the presidential residence in Almaty, where thousands of demonstrators had gathered outside, was on fire and that the city’s main administration building, which includes the mayor’s office, was burning from top to bottom hours after demonstrators broke in.

Many of the demonstrators who converged on the mayoral office carried clubs and shields, according to earlier reports in Kazakh media.

State of emergency declared as president vows to act with ‘maximum severity'

16:34 , Tom Batchelor

Kazakhstan has declared states of emergency in the capital, the main city and provinces.

In a televised statement to the nation on Wednesday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that “we intend to act with maximum severity regarding law-breakers”.

Police have tried to turn back demonstrators with water cannon, tear gas and concussion grenades.

Mr Tokayev said police had been killed in clashes with demonstrators, but there were no immediate casualty figures for police or civilians.

In the statement, he also promised to make political reforms and announced that he was assuming the leadership of the national security council.

Almaty airport seized and flights suspended

16:40 , Tom Batchelor

Protesters seized control of the airport of Kazakhstan‘s biggest city Almaty on Wednesday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

All flights to and from Almaty are temporary cancelled, the source said.

Reports said at least 45 people were at the airport and that staff had left as the site was taken over by protesters.

Full story: Kazakhstan unrest over fuel price rise

16:46 , Tom Batchelor

Here is my colleague Rory O’Sullivan with the full, developing story on Kazakhstan’s rapid descent towards unrest.

Kazakhstan protesters seize Almaty airport amid unrest over fuel price rise

Jazeera Airways becomes first to cancel flights to Almaty

16:52 , Tom Batchelor

Kuwaiti budget carrier Jazeera Airways on Wednesday suspended flights to Kazakhstan‘s biggest city Almaty as violent protests against the government there continued across the country.

“We will provide an update on our operations when we have further information,” an airline spokesperson said by email.

The Gulf carrier typically operates weekly flights to Almaty, its only destination in the Central Asian country.

Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and flydubai, which operate regular flights to Kazakhstan, separately said they were monitoring events in the country.

Tracking app FlightRadar24 showed there were no airborne aircraft en route to or from Almaty airport on Wednesday afternoon (close to midnight local time).

Powerful ex-leader Nazarbayev is main target of Kazakhs' anger

17:15 , Tom Batchelor

Nursultan Nazarbayev, stripped on Wednesday of his role as head of Kazakhstan’s powerful Security Council amid violent street protests, has dominated his vast oil-producing Central Asian nation since before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Reuters reports.

Some protesters have chanted slogans against the 81-year-old former president during days of unrest triggered by a fuel price rise that on Wednesday brought the Cabinet’s resignation.

Despite quitting the presidency in 2019 and bequeathing power to a hand-picked successor, Mr Nazarbayev remained the real power in the land.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced in a televised address on Wednesday that he would now head the State Security Committee but made no mention of Mr Nazarbayev, who has not been seen or heard from for days.

Mr Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan with an iron hand for nearly three decades, attracting hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in the energy and metal sectors and skilfully balancing ties with powerful neighbours Russia and China.

But the former steelworker brooked no dissent and drew criticism from Western countries and human rights groups who accused him of rolling back post-Soviet democratic freedoms. His family is believed to control much of the Kazakh economy.

Kazakhstan unrest in photos

17:23 , Tom Batchelor

Smoke rises from the city hall building during a protest in Almaty (AP)
Smoke rises from the city hall building during a protest in Almaty (AP)
Protesters took to the street during a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty (EPA)
Protesters took to the street during a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty (EPA)
Riot police officers prepare for violent skirmishes (EPA)
Riot police officers prepare for violent skirmishes (EPA)
This image grab shows protesters near an administrative building in Almaty (AFP via Getty Images)
This image grab shows protesters near an administrative building in Almaty (AFP via Getty Images)
Riot police block a street after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency in the capital until 19 January (EPA)
Riot police block a street after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency in the capital until 19 January (EPA)

Putin discusses unrest with Kazakh and Belarusian presidents

17:42 , Tom Batchelor

Vladimir Putin has discussed the unrest in Kazakhstan with the country’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The Russian president has also spoken with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko about the situation the Belarusian news agency Belta said.

Belarus is separated from Kazakhstan by more than 1,00km of Russian territory.

White House monitoring unrest as US urges calm

17:52 , Tom Batchelor

The White House has urged calm and restraint in reaction to protests in Kazakhstan, which it said officials were monitoring.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also said Russian accusations that the United States had instigated the unrest was “absolutely false”.

Why are violent protests rocking Kazakhstan?

18:08 , Tom Batchelor

When and where did the violence start, what are the protesters’ demands and how have the authorities responded?

For answers to these questions and more, here is our explainer on the fast-moving situation in Kazakhstan.

Why are violent protests rocking Kazakhstan?

Kazakh president fires powerful security chief

18:30 , Tom Batchelor

Kazakhstan‘s president has fired the powerful head of the country’s security council in an attempt to calm the worst unrest to rock the Central Asian nation for more than a decade.

Protesters, initially angered by a New Year’s Day fuel price rise, have stormed and torched public buildings and chanted slogans against security chief Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has retained wide authority despite stepping down as president in 2019 after nearly three decades at the helm.

Mr Nazarbayev’s hand-chosen successor as president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said in a national televised address that he had taken over as head of the State Security Committee, a post that had been retained by Mr Nazarbayev.

Eight killed and 317 injured - report

19:12 , Tom Batchelor

Eight security personnel have been killed and a further 317 injured, reports suggest, while no figures have been given for deaths and injuries of those protesting.

Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news agency quoted the Kazakh interior ministry as saying the police and national guard troops were killed and injured in several regions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The unrest is the worst in Kazakhstan since 2011, when at least 14 protesters were killed by police during a strike by oil workers in the western city of Zhanaozen.

Security forces ‘use stun grenades’ in Kazakhstan protest crackdown

19:20 , Tom Batchelor

Kazakh president seeks help from Russia-led security bloc

19:47 , Tom Batchelor

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has appealed to a Russia-led security bloc to assist Kazakhstan in overcoming what he called a “terrorist threat”.

The comments came as Mr Tokayev made a second televised speech in the space of a few hours.

He said what he described as foreign-trained terrorist gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons. They had taken control of the airport in the biggest city, Almaty, and five aircraft there, including foreign planes, he said.

“It is actually no longer a threat, it is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me... to help them urgently,” Tokayev said.

“Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalized, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits, therefore it is our duty... to take all possible actions to protect our state.”

Mr Tokayev said he had appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Protests extend into evening in Almaty

20:32 , Tom Batchelor

Protesters take part in a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty (AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters take part in a rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty (AFP via Getty Images)
Riot police officers are seen in a street in Nur-Sultan (Turar Kazangapov/TASS)
Riot police officers are seen in a street in Nur-Sultan (Turar Kazangapov/TASS)
The protests were sparked by rising fuel prices on January 2 in the towns of Zhanaozen and Aktau in western Kazakhstan (Turar Kazangapov/TASS)
The protests were sparked by rising fuel prices on January 2 in the towns of Zhanaozen and Aktau in western Kazakhstan (Turar Kazangapov/TASS)
People take part in a rally in Almaty (Yerlan Dzhumayev/TASS)
People take part in a rally in Almaty (Yerlan Dzhumayev/TASS)

Key facts about Kazakhstan

21:03 , Tom Batchelor

Here are some basic facts about the country.

  • Kazakhstan is home to large oil, gas and metal deposits and is the largest economy in former Soviet Central Asia. It is the largest of the five ex-Soviet Central Asian republics by territory, or about five times the size of France, and has a population of nearly 19 million.

  • Helped by a reputation for political stability under its former long-serving leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment, but much of the economy is believed to be controlled by the Nazarbayev family.

  • Kazakhstan‘s purpose-built new capital, Nur-Sultan, is named after the former president.

  • Kazakhstan, a majority Muslim nation, is central to a geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia, China and the West. It has historically close ties with Russia and ethnic Russians make up nearly a fifth of the population.