(CNN) — Riots broke out in cities across Kazakhstan on Wednesday as thousands of people They protested against a sharp rise in fuel prices. which ended with the resignation of the government of the Central Asian country.
Local media reported that protesters stormed the airport in the country’s largest city, Almaty, and that a state of emergency has been instituted across the country, state broadcaster Khabar 24 reports. The state of emergency will be in effect. force until January 19 and, according to the news agency, restrictions on movement, including transport, have been introduced in the three main cities and in 14 regions.
In all three cities, local administration officials were attacked, buildings were damaged and “stones, sticks, pepper spray and Molotov cocktails were used,” according to a statement from the Interior Ministry. An Almaty journalist told CNN that there was an internet outage and the lights appeared to be off in buildings near the president’s residence and the mayor’s office.
The Almaty airport press service told local outlet Orda.kz that there were “about 45 invaders at the airport” on Wednesday night. “Airport employees evacuated passengers on their own,” they added.
The protests were sparked when the government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) earlier in the year, Reuters reported. Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on this fuel due to its low cost.
Prime Minister Askar Mamin resigned amid the protests, and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held a meeting on “the evolution of the difficult socio-political and socio-economic situation in the country,” according to a statement posted on the presidential website on Wednesday.
Tokayev said in a speech on national television Wednesday that he will take control of the country’s Security Council, a move that appears to sideline his predecessor, the country’s longtime president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country from which was a Soviet republic until his departure in 2019, and has remained an influential but controversial figure behind the scenes and on the council ever since.
In a second televised address, Kazakhstan’s president called for help from a military alliance formed by post-Soviet states after “terrorists” seized Almaty airport, including five planes, and clashed with the military on the outskirts of the city. .
According to the state news agency Kazinform, Tokayev called on officials from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Russia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, to help quell the unrest. Tokayev said that various infrastructure facilities in the city have also been damaged. He accused the protesters of undermining the “state system” and claimed that “many of them have received military training abroad.”
Eight policemen and national guard personnel died in the riots that occurred in different regions of the country, according to local media Tengrinews.kz. It also said that 317 officers and staff were injured, citing the press service of the Interior Ministry.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest nation by area, has attracted foreign investment and maintained a strong economy since independence, but its autocratic method of governance has at times raised international concern and authorities have cracked down on protests. according to global rights groups.
The State Department’s 2018 human rights report noted that Kazakhstan’s 2015 presidential election, in which Nazarbayev received 98% of the votes cast, “was marred by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition.”
Alikhan Smailov was appointed acting prime minister, and members of the government will continue to serve until the formation of the new cabinet, the statement added.
A local journalist told CNN that thousands of people protested this Wednesday in front of the Almaty city hall.
“[Hay] more than 10,000 people in the city administration building, which we call the Akimat. They have surrounded him,” Serikzhan said.
Mauletbay, deputy director of Orda.kz., said stun grenades were used and there is “some kind of fire,” according to an Instagram live video he saw from the scene.
Another journalist described the scene as chaotic and said they could hear and see what they believed to be stun grenades being fired and gunshots, but it is unclear what the sounds of the gunshots were.
Russia maintains close relations with Kazakhstan and relies on the Baikonur Cosmodrome as a launch base for all Russian manned space missions. The Central Asian nation also has a significant Russian ethnic minority. According to the CIA World Factbook, about 20% of the population of Kazakhstan is ethnically Russian.
The President of Kazakhstan said that a series of measures aimed at “stabilizing the socio-economic situation” had been established, including government regulation of fuel prices for a period of 180 days, a moratorium on the increase in utility rates for the population during the same period, and the consideration of rental aid for “vulnerable segments of the population”.
On Tuesday night, Tokayev said on his official Twitter that the government had decided to lower the price of LPG in the Mangistau region to 50 tenge (US$0.11) per liter “to ensure stability in the country.”
— Nathan Hodge contributed to this report.