Moscow (dpa) – The president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, issued a shoot-to-kill order against the protesters threatening his authoritarian government’s survival on Friday.
“I have given orders to the security forces and the army to open fire without warning,” Tokayev said in a televised address, rejecting international calls for dialogue as “stupidity” and asking: “What kind of negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers?”
Demanding “anti-terrorist operations” continue until the “fighters are completely wiped out,” Tokayev claimed that some 20,000 “bandits” had rioted in the country’s biggest city Almaty, and suggested without giving any details that the unrest had been directed from abroad.
On Friday morning, state television reported that 26 demonstrators had been killed and over 3,700 arrested since the unrest began, while officials put the death toll for the security forces at 18.
Meanwhile, independent news channels showed footage of smoke rising from buildings in Almaty and reported the sound of gunfire, suggesting that the unrest is continuing despite the government’s claim to have regained control.
The arrival of Russian troops in the country appears to have given the Kazakh authorities significant relief, however, with Moscow announcing that Almaty airport was once again “under full control” after anti-government protesters occupied it earlier this week.
Russia’s troop deployment came in response to a request to the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization from Tokayev asking for help in putting down the anti-government demonstrations, which were sparked by soaring fuel prices.
The Chinese government appeared to shift its position on Friday when it voiced its support for the Russian-led military intervention.
“China supports all efforts that help the Kazakhstan authorities to end the chaos as soon as possible,” Foreign Office spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the press in Beijing, adding that China firmly opposed external forces deliberately creating social unrest to incite violence. Just a day earlier Wang had called the unrest in its western neighbour an “internal affair.”
Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city and economic hub, has now seen days of rioting, including the torching of government buildings and mass looting. Armed demonstrators are also believed to be holed up in a television station in the city.
The country’s internet has been cut, its borders have been sealed and information cannot be easily verified in most cases.
Turkish Airlines has confirmed to dpa that it has suspended its flights to Kazakhstan until Sunday, citing the continued unrest.