Kazakhstan unrest: Russian troops fly in as crackdown continues

Russian-led forces have arrived in Kazakhstan at the request of the country’s authoritarian president, amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

Officials have reported deaths of police and protesters after days of unrest sparked by a fuel price hike.

A BBC journalist in the largest city Almaty shared video of heavy gunfire overnight on Thursday.

The UN, US, UK, and France have called on all sides to refrain from violence.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed foreign-trained “terrorists” for the unrest, without giving evidence.

In an address on state TV on Wednesday, he appealed to the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for support. The bloc includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan and Armenia.

The overseas force being sent to Kazakhstan reportedly numbers about 2,500 soldiers. The CSTO says the troops are a peacekeeping force and will protect state and military installations. They will stay in the country for several days or weeks, the Russian RIA news agency reports.

The US State Department has said it is closely monitoring the deployment of Russian troops. “The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violation of human rights,” a spokesman said.

“We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.”

Some 18 members of the security forces have died in Almaty, officials said, and police said they had killed dozens of people described as “rioters” overnight.

Saule, a 58-year-old construction worker who took part in the protests, told AFP news agency that she saw security forces open fire on demonstrators.

“We saw the deaths,” she said. “Straight away about 10 were killed.”

Kazakhstan’s interior ministry says 2,298 protesters have also been detained.

The unrest began on Sunday when the cost of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – which many people in Kazakhstan use to fuel their cars – doubled, drawing protesters onto the streets.

The government said on Thursday that fuel price caps will be restored for six months. But the announcement has failed to end the protests, which have broadened to include other political grievances.

Kazakhstan is often described as authoritarian, and most elections are won by the ruling party with nearly 100% of the vote. There is no effective political opposition.

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