ALMATY (REUTERS) – The president of ex-Soviet republic Kazakhstan appealed to a Russian-led security bloc for help on Thursday (Jan 6) after failing to quell days of protests that have seen state buildings torched and eight security personnel reported dead.
Initially angered by a fuel price rise, protesters have been storming buildings and chanting against President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev.
He retained wide power despite quitting in 2019 after a nearly three-decade rule.
The Central Asian nation’s reputation for stability under Nazarbayev helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries.
But a younger generation is demanding the liberalisation seen in other former satellite states of the Soviet Union.
Around Kazakhstan – five times the size of France with a population of nearly 19 million – protests killed eight police and national guard troops on Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia’s state-owned Sputnik agency quoted the Kazakh interior ministry as saying.
Apparently seeking to appease public ire, Tokayev sacked Nazarbayev as head of the national Security Council on Wednesday, and took it over himself. He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and removed Nazarbayev’s nephew from the No. 2 position on the committee.
Tokayev’s Cabinet also resigned.
But protests continued, with demonstrators taking control of the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
flights were cancelled.
A witness told Reuters he could see protesters removing benches along Almaty’s main Astana square to build barricades.
Earlier, riot police used teargas and flash grenades against the protesters but then appeared to abandon some streets in Almaty.
In a second televised speech within hours, Tokayev said in the early hours of Thursday that he had appealed for help to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
He said foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons, and had taken five aircraft, including foreign ones, at Almaty airport.