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Emergency declared in Kazakhstan as fuel protests rage and government resigns

Local media reported that protesters violated the airport in Almaty, the country’s largest city, while a state of emergency was imposed across the country, state-run newspaper Khabar 24 reported. It will be in place until January 19, when the news agency said restrictions on movement, including transportation, were imposed in all three major cities and 14 regions.

In the A statement by the Ministry of the Interior stated that three cities, local administration officials were attacked, buildings were damaged, and “stones, sticks, gas, pepper and Molotov cocktails” were used. A journalist in Almaty told CNN that they are experiencing an internet outage and it appears that the lights are out in buildings near the president’s residence and the mayor’s office.

The press service of the Almaty airport told the local website Orda.kz that there were “about 45 invaders at the airport” on Wednesday evening. They added that “the airport staff evacuated the passengers themselves.”

The protests erupted when the government lifted liquefied petroleum gas price controls at the beginning of the year, Reuters reported. Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on fuel due to its low cost.

Prime Minister Askar Mamin resigned amid the protests, and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held a meeting on “the development of the difficult social, political, social and economic situation in the country,” according to a statement posted on the presidential website on Wednesday.

Tokayev said in a nationally televised address on Wednesday that he would take control of the country’s Security Council – a move that appears to marginalize his predecessor, the country’s longtime president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country from a Soviet republic until his departure. 2019 and has remained an influential and controversial figure behind the scenes and on the board ever since.

In a second televised address, the Kazakh president appealed for help from a military coalition consisting of post-Soviet states after “terrorists” seized Almaty airport, including five planes and are fighting with the army outside the city.

According to the official Kazinform news agency, Tokayev called on the heads of the Collective Security Treaty Organization — which includes Russia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan — to help quell the unrest. Tokayev said a number of infrastructure facilities in the city were also damaged. He accused the protesters of undermining the “state system” and claimed that “many of them received military training abroad.”

Eight police officers and National Guard personnel have been killed in riots in different regions of the country, according to Kazakhstan’s local website Tengrinews.kz. It also stated that 317 officers and personnel were injured, quoting the press service of the Ministry of Interior.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country by area, has attracted foreign investment and maintained a robust economy since its independence, but its authoritarian style of governance has at times sparked international concern and authorities have seen severe crackdowns on protests, according to the report. for global rights groups.

The Foreign Ministry’s 2018 Human Rights Report noted Kazakhstan’s 2015 presidential election, in which Nazarbayev received 98% of the votes cast, was “marked by irregularities and lacked real political competition.”

The statement added that Alikhan Smailov was appointed as the acting prime minister, and members of the government will continue to work until the formation of the new government.

A local journalist told CNN that thousands of people were protesting outside the mayor’s office in Almaty on Wednesday.

Kazakhstan government resigns as fuel protests rage

“More than 10,000 people are in the city administration building, we call it Akimat. They surrounded it,” said Serikshan Muletbay, deputy editor-in-chief of Orda.kz. Molitbay 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 heard and saw what they believed to be sound bombs exploding and gunshots, but it was not clear what the sounds of gunfire were.

Russia maintains close relations with Kazakhstan and Russia and relies on the Baikonur Cosmodrome as a launch base for all of Russia’s manned space missions. The Central Asian country also has a large Russian ethnic minority; The CIA World Factbook says that about 20% of Kazakhstan’s population is of Russian origin.

The Kazakh president said that a number of measures were taken aimed at “stabilizing the social and economic situation”, including government regulation of fuel prices for a period of 180 days, and stopping the increase in utility tariffs for the population for the same period. and consideration of rental subsidies for “vulnerable segments of the population”.

On Tuesday evening, Tokayev said in his official Twitter feed, that the government had decided to reduce the price of liquefied petroleum gas in the Mangistau region to 50 tenge ($0.11) per liter “in order to ensure stability in the country.”

CNN’s Nathan Hodge contributed to this report.

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