Monday, January 17

The Kazakh riots: – Probably hit a nerve in the population

REBELLION: Protesters barked along with riot police in Almaty on Wednesday. Peaceful demonstrations then developed into violent riots.

Witnesses describe chaotic conditions in the streets of Almaty. The information monopoly of the Kazakh authorities makes it difficult to know what is happening in the country, says Nupi researcher.


Government buildings have been stormed and set on fire. Extensive looting is reported in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

Both members of the security forces and protesters were killed, and hundreds were injured in violent clashes. 26 people the authorities claim were “armed criminals” killed and 18 wounded, the Interior Ministry in Kazakhstan said, according to Ria Novosti. In addition, 3,000 people must be arrested.

A Russian-led military alliance has sent forces with about 2,500 soldiers to quell the riots.

Local journalist Ardak Bukeeva has spoken to protesters on the ground who stormed the presidential residence in Almaty, writes The Guardian. They said dozens of people were killed in the siege.

There are rumors that provocateurs have come to the demonstrations with the aim of creating trouble. Others say that the police were at times almost absent in the cityscape on Wednesday and Thursday.

– We have already seen a serious development on Thursday in terms of the regime’s willingness to use force, with many dead and injured, says Kazakhstan expert and senior researcher Kristin Fjæstad at Nupi, Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy to VG.

Requires free choice

So far, reports suggest that the demonstrations have arisen spontaneously among oil workers in the west of the country and spread like wildfire across the country. There is no indication that they have been organized or centrally led in any way, says Fjæstad.

– The demonstrations seem to have been triggered by an increase in fuel prices, but the protests that started in the west, have probably hit a nerve in the population, she explains.

On Wednesday, protesters stormed several government buildings with clubs, setting them on fire. The demonstrations have brought great material destruction, in addition to those that have been wounded and killed on both sides.

NUPI researcher Fjæstad mentions, among other things, demands for new and free elections and a more parliamentary political system as a basis for the demonstrations.

The picture is complex, and many probably have different reasons to protest, she says. There is widespread dissatisfaction with developments in the country in terms of social and economic conditions, and that is probably what is expressed in these demonstrations.

Kazakhstan has been seen by many as a success story in Central Asia and has succeeded in creating economic growth largely due to the availability of raw materials. At the same time, these resources have been vulnerable to falling commodity prices. And wealth has largely materialized for a political and economic elite and little for most people.

Information monopoly

Dozens of protesters and at least 18 members of the police and security forces have so far been killed in the riots. According to the Interior Ministry, 2,298 protesters have so far been arrested or detained. Around 400 are to be hospitalized, according to authorities.

But the numbers and claims are difficult to verify, and it is very difficult to know what is really going on in the country.

For long periods, the internet has been closed. Mobile coverage is poor. The vast majority of TV channels have stopped broadcasting. This makes it difficult to get information out, and what comes out is difficult to confirm, Fjæstad explains.

KASAKHSTAN EXPERT: Senior researcher Kristin Fjæstad is head of the Research Group for Russia, Asia and International Trade at Nupi, Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy. Among other things, she wrote a doctorate about Kazakhstan.

– The authorities are almost sitting on a complete information monopoly. They have a situation description and explanation of this situation that is not similar to what independent media and journalists on the ground describe, says Fjæstad.

Blood clots and fire

Activist Irina Mednikova tells The Guardian that she saw large pools of blood in the grass around the presidential residence on Thursday morning and an absence of security forces and police.

– The home was completely burnt down. The gate had been broken down with cars or tractors. All the windows were broken, and inside there was smoke and a horrible smell, says Mednikova.

BLOODY: A lawn in central Almaty was covered in blood.

Valeria Ibraeva, an art historian who observed the protests from his window overlooking one of the main thoroughfares in Almaty, said the protesters on Tuesday smiled and were friendly. They were hopeful and without aggression. But on Wednesday it was something completely different. Suddenly she saw extensive looting and that a bus was tried to overturn.

BURNED: Protesters set fire to cars and government offices in Almaty on Wednesday and Thursday. Here a burnt out truck belonging to the police.

Russian-led forces

On Thursday, soldiers from a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet states (CSTO) arrived. They will stay in Kazakhstan for several days or weeks, reports the Russian news agency RIA. In total, there will be talk of around 2,500 soldiers.

Earlier Thursday morning, CSTO forces launched an operation to try to quell the riots. The goal is to maintain peace and order and assist Kazakh security forces, according to the alliance itself.

The alliance has deployed forces after Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Yomart Tokayev called for help to stabilize the country.

MILITARY SUPPORT: Russian soldiers on their way to Kazakhstan board a military plane at a base outside Moscow on Thursday.

Serious development

What started as peaceful demonstrations on Wednesday turned into violence. Protesters claim it came as a reaction to excessive use of force by security forces and police, while authorities label all protesters as terrorists.

– It is probably a mixture of ordinary people who are desperate that they can not pay for fuel, while others are young people who are looking for a future with more freedom of choice.

Many of the protesters have legitimate reasons to protest, while others do not, Fjæstad believes.

LARGE NUMBER: In this picture from Wednesday, a large group of protesters have gathered in the center of Almaty.

Authorities have reported that 18 members of the security forces have been killed, and one of them has been found with his head cut off.

– On a general basis, it can be said that such protests bring with them many different people who have different reasons to demonstrate. Many have legitimate reasons, while others see their average to achieve something else, she says.

It is difficult to say how long the conflict can last, Fjæstad believes. This depends, among other things, on the regime’s willingness to use force and how the demonstrators react to the use of force and Russia’s intervention. The degree of dissatisfaction going forward is also asked about how long Russian-led forces will stay in the country and what role they will take in the conflict, she believes.

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