This is a new official report, much heavier than the previous ones. During a press briefing organized this Saturday, the authorities of Kazakhstan announced that the wave of violence which shook the country at the beginning of the month had left 225 dead. The latest official toll reported less than 50 dead, although sources already mentioned, a week ago, the death of at least 160 people.
“During the state of emergency, the bodies of 225 people were admitted to morgues, 19 of whom were law enforcement and military personnel”, said Serik Shalabaev, a representative of the Prosecutor General. Other corpses were those of “armed bandits who participated in terrorist attacks”, he added. “Unfortunately, civilians have also been victims of terrorist acts.”
Rising gas prices
On an unprecedented scale in the country, the riots began with peaceful protests against rising energy prices. On January 2 in the small town of Janaozen, in western Kazakhstan, the first demonstrations broke out to protest against the brutal rise in gas prices, which had more than doubled in a few days, while almost all the vehicles of region run on liquefied natural gas. In this part of the country, rich in hydrocarbons but which does not touch the benefits – poor population, dilapidated infrastructure – this increase is causing discontent to explode.
Starting from the west, the protest quickly grew and spread to surrounding towns. First in Aktaou, the regional capital. Then, the next day, in most major Kazakh cities. Economic demands are beginning to mix with political slogans, including the resignation of the government forcing the central power to let go of ballast.
On January 4, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in office since 2019, announced a six-month gas price freeze, while urging protesters to be careful and not to “give in to the provocateurs”. But across the west and in the economic capital, Almaty, protests are turning into a riot. Thousands of demonstrators stormed the burnt-out Almaty town hall and briefly seized the airport.
Support from Moscow
Quickly, the repression is put in place, more and more ferocious as the days go by. A national state of emergency is declared, communications cut off. And to quell the dispute, the Head of State appealed to Moscow and its allies, who deployed on January 6 “a collective peacekeeping force to protect state and military installations”, as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which brings together Russia and five allied former Soviet republics.
The Kazakh authorities blame the acts of violence on “bandits” and “terrorists” international organizations which they claim hijacked the peaceful protests. On Friday, January 7, the president announced that he had authorized his forces to “shoot to kill”. Three days later, he assures us that “constitutional order has been restored” in the country, who has conquered “an attempted coup” fomented by “fighters” strangers. His Russian ally, Vladimir Putin, also denounces a “aggression of international terrorism”.
According to the authorities, more than 12,000 people were arrested during this week of violence, which also left thousands injured. Asel Artakshinova, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said more than 2,600 people had been hospitalized, with nearly 70 still in serious condition.
Troops from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization that intervened began to gradually withdraw on Thursday.