BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan said Friday that he had authorized the nation’s security forces to “fire without warning” as the government moved to bring an end to two days of chaos and violence after peaceful protests descended into scenes of anarchy.
“We hear calls from abroad for the parties to negotiate to find a peaceful solution to the problems,” President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in an address to the nation. “This is just nonsense.”
“What negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers,” he said. “They need to be destroyed and this will be done.”
The government said that order had been “mainly restored” across the country as Russian troops joined with the country’s security forces to quell widespread unrest.
the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
This is the first time in the history of the alliance that its protection clause has been invoked.
Even as Russian paratroopers from the elite 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade landed in Almaty, gunbattles raged in the streets late into the night, according to video from a BBC correspondent on the scene.
lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas, a low-carbon fuel that many Kazakhs use to power their cars. But the frustration among the people runs deep in regards to social and economic disparities.
What do the protesters want? The demands of the demonstrators have expanded in scope from lower fuel prices to a broader political liberalization by seeking to oust the autocratic forces that have ruled Kazakhstan without any substantial opposition since 1991.
Why does the unrest matter outside this region? Until now, the oil-rich country has been regarded as a pillar of political and economic stability in an unstable region. The protests are also significant for Vladimir Putin, who views Kazakhstan as part of Russia’s sphere of influence.
How has the government responded? President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called the protesters “a band of terrorists,” declared Kazakhstan under attack and asked the Russian-led military alliance to intervene. Officials have instituted a state of emergency and shut off internet access.
“The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violations of human rights,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. “We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.”
Meanwhile, China expressed full support for the Kazakh leader.
“You decisively took effective measures at critical moments to quickly calm the situation, which embodies your responsibility as a politician,” China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, said in a message to Mr. Tokayev, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.
Kazakhstan has been expanding its ties with China in recent years. The country plays a central role in Mr. Xi’s signature infrastructure program, known as “One Belt, One Road,” which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and build up other trading routes between Asia and Europe to pump Chinese products into foreign markets.
In his message, Mr. Xi condemned any efforts to undermine Kazakhstan’s stability and peace, as well as its relationship with China. He told Mr. Tokayev that Beijing “resolutely opposes external forces deliberately creating turmoil and instigating a ‘color revolution’ in Kazakhstan,” the news agency said.
The Xinhua report did not elaborate on what Mr. Xi was referring to, but the Chinese Communist Party has often invoked the theme of foreign meddling to explain unrest, including in Hong Kong.
The protests in Kazakhstan started on Sunday with what appeared to be a genuine outpouring of public anger over an increase in fuel prices and a broader frustration over a government widely viewed as corrupt — with vast oil riches benefiting an elite few at the expense of the masses.
In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a price cap on vehicle fuel and a halt to increases in utility bills.
However, as the protests swelled, both the government and even some supporters of the protests said they had been co-opted by criminal gangs looking to exploit the situation.
Over the past two days, oil prices have risen 4 percent, partly driven by worries over Kazakhstan, a major petroleum producer. Futures in Brent crude, the international benchmark, were trading at $82.95 a barrel on Friday, close to seven-year highs that were reached in October.
Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, said there has been some disruption to oil production at their key Tengiz field in Kazakhstan. The issue appears to be difficulty in loading some petroleum products from the field onto rail cars.
The market is also responding to geopolitical tensions, including over Ukraine, and to production problems in Nigeria, Angola, Libya and elsewhere.
The huge destruction of public property in Kazakhstan — including the torching of Almaty’s City Hall and the burning and looting of scores of other government buildings — has been met with a strong show of force by security personnel.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday that 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and 18 security officers killed in the unrest.
Ivan Nechepurenko reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Valerie Hopkins from Moscow, and Marc Santora from Chatel, France. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington, Stanley Reed from London, and Gillian Wong from Seoul.
All night and into the early hours on Thursday, young men roamed the streets of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, flanked by flames and buttressed by barricades. As stun grenades exploded and tear gas wafted in the air, demonstrators set fire to trucks, police cars and other vehicles, their smoldering hulks littering the streets.
As the first foreign soldiers from countries allied with Russia landed in the Central Asian nation, they found a country that had, for the moment, been plunged into anarchy.
Some protesters came with firearms and started looting shops and malls, according to video footage posted from the scene. They set government buildings on fire, including the City Hall and the former office of the country’s president. They also captured the airport.
The scale of the violence, which was evident in videos, postings on social media and official government statements, was still coming into focus on Thursday morning as new and unconfirmed reports of sporadic clashes circulated on social media.
With intermittent internet access and few independent witnesses, information coming out of the country was hard to verify.
Galym Ageleulov, who has witnessed the events of the past few days, said he believed that a protest movement that was calling for peaceful change had been co-opted by throngs of criminals. Overnight, the streets were filled with mostly young men, many posing on social media with riot shields and helmets captured from the police.They were highly organized and managed by gang leaders, he said.
“The police have disappeared from the city,” said Mr. Ageleulov, director of the human rights center Liberty in Almaty. “These gang members marched through the city looting stores and setting cars ablaze as they moved; they stormed the City Hall,” he said in a phone interview.
“It was a horrible scene,” he said.
By the morning, Almaty had been transformed: Commercial banks were ordered closed with many Kazakhs rushing to A.T.M.s desperate to withdraw cash; stores were closed, causing many residents line up for bread, a scene unseen in the country for decades; at times, the internet has been shut down, disrupting basic infrastructure work.
Almaty’s City Hall, an imposing white building that once served as the Communist Party headquarters, was charred black from the flames that burned through the night. Members of the special forces roamed the surrounding streets firing live ammunition trying to quell the uprising.
The revolt began on Sunday in western Kazakhstan as a protest against a surge in fuel prices. Even though the government said it would rescind the price increase, the protests widened, spreading across the country, with broader demands for increased political representation and improved social benefits.
The Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, issued a statement late Wednesday night calling the protesters “a band of terrorists” who had been trained abroad. He declared Kazakhstan to be under attack and asked for intervention from Russia’s answer to NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to which his country belongs.
The group is effectively led by Russia and also includes former Soviet countries in the Kremlin sphere of influence: Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The protests have paralyzed a nation of 19 million. In addition to the bank closures and internet shutdowns, the telephone system has been shut off sporadically, schools have extended their winter break by a week and flights in and out of airports in the cities of Almaty, Aktau and Aktobe have been suspended.
MOSCOW — A border clash this week between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan killed more than 40 people, government officials said Friday, significantly raising the death toll for an episode that began as a dispute over irrigation water.
The outbreak of violence comes at a delicate time for the United States after the Biden administration announced a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which borders Tajikistan to the south, by September. The nations of Central Asia provide an alternative to Pakistan as an overland route to withdraw American military equipment.
The fighting around a Tajik enclave in southwestern Kyrgyzstan briefly resumed on Friday before the countries’ presidents spoke on the phone and agreed to meet next month. The sides had agreed to a cease-fire Thursday.
The office of Kyrgyzstan’s president, Sadyr Zhaparov, issued a statement saying it was “confident that mutually beneficial cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will continually and fruitfully develop on the basis of traditional and centuries-old friendship and honesty between the peoples.”
reports suggested the situation on the ground, entangled in local grievances and raw ethnic tension, remained unfriendly. Videos posted online showed Tajik-speakers rejoicing as Kyrgyz homes burned in one village.
What began with rock throwing between Tajiks and Kyrgyz in villages along the border escalated into an exchange of small-arms fire between border guards and other security forces.
Kyrgyz authorities said that the Tajik government had deployed military forces in the region before the escalation and that a helicopter attacked a border post. Still, when the fighting stopped with a cease-fire Thursday both sides reported a total of six dead.
But on Friday the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyzstan said 31 people died and 154 people were wounded on its side. The national authorities in Tajikistan have not released a death toll for their side, but local media citing regional officials said 10 people had died and 90 were wounded.
The fighting centered around Vorukh, a Tajik enclave in Kyrgyzstan that has for years been a hot spot in a long-simmering conflict over ethnic enclaves in and around the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia, a legacy of the Soviet breakup.
Another long-running security headache in Central Asia has been water politics. Tajikistan controls the headwaters of many of the region’s rivers that the four other former Soviet states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, depend on for irrigation. The fighting this week began over control of an irrigation canal.
In the early stages of the Afghan war, the United States opened two bases in Central Asia to move troops into Afghanistan, and also transported everything from fuel to food on an overland route through the region and into the war zone.