Kazakhstan activists recall path from protest to bloodshed

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — The mass protests in Kazakhstan started peacefully over the New Year’s weekend, with marchers denouncing a pointy rise in gasoline prices. They unfold shortly from the western a part of the Central Asian nation to extra populous areas, ultimately reaching its largest metropolis of Almaty.

But one thing modified over the course of per week.

Groups of armed males appeared in Almaty, with some seen using in automobiles without license plates or with their faces lined. Marchers on the peaceable protests say these males started urging them to storm authorities buildings, promising to give them weapons.

Clashes with police quickly broke out, and by the evening of Jan. 5, Almaty was in chaos. City Hall was burning, as have been automobiles and buses; shops have been looted; and makes an attempt have been made to storm the presidential residence. Gunshots have been heard within the streets, the web was blacked out, and even the airport was briefly seized.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on “terrorists” who acquired international coaching and assist.

But practically two weeks after the occasions that led to scores of deaths and about 16,000 arrests, the federal government has not offered any proof to assist its allegation of outdoor involvement.

It stays unclear whether or not these extra violent actors have been people profiting from the mayhem to loot and vandalize shops, or in the event that they have been a part of organized teams with bigger political motives.

Protesters, nonetheless, say their rallies have been in some way undermined, main to the crackdown by safety forces. Tokayev has mentioned authorities did not use power at peaceable demonstrations.

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Although the protests started over the upper value of gasoline, the scope and the agenda of the demonstrations expanded shortly. Large crowds rallied in main cities, venting their frustration with worsening dwelling situations and inequality beneath the authoritarian authorities that has maintained a good grip on energy for over three many years within the energy-rich nation of 19 million.

Much of that occurred beneath longtime chief Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 in favor of Tokayev, his hand-picked successor, however has maintained behind-the-scenes affect. The slogan “Shal ket!” — “Old man go!” — was chanted at rallies.

“A big a part of the individuals are those that got here on the name of their hearts to categorical their perspective in the direction of the authorities, as a result of they’re drained, as a result of they don’t really feel just like the state is offering them with social safety,” mentioned human rights activist Galym Age infoleuov, president of the Liberty Foundation.

Tokayev initially tried to calm the crowds by saying a 180-day cap on gasoline prices and eradicating Nazarbayev as head of the National Security Council, a transfer broadly seen as an try to finish the previous chief’s patronage whereas additionally consolidating energy.

But the protests continued and the violence escalated amid the peaceable rallies in Almaty.

A protester whose first identify is Bezshan mentioned that on Jan. 5, armed males approached and requested younger individuals within the crowd to assist them storm a police station. “They mentioned they’d hand out weapons,” he instructed The Associated Press, recalling the incident greater than per week later. AP has chosen not to publish the total names of protesters interviewed out of warning for his or her safety.

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Beken, one other protester, mentioned he additionally noticed “provocateurs” on the rally that day, urging an assault on police: “We tried to cease them as a lot as we might, telling them: ‘Everyone, keep put.’ We don’t want weapons, we got here out to a peaceable rally,” he mentioned.

On Jan. 6, safety forces opened fireplace and killed dozens of protesters. At least 12 officers additionally have been reported killed. The subsequent day, Tokayev introduced he had given safety forces shoot-to-kill orders to halt the violent unrest, saying: “We intend to act with most severity concerning lawbreakers.”

Almaty police spokeswoman Saltynat Azirbek known as the Jan. 5 assault on the police division “a correct battle.”

The attackers “did not put ahead any calls for,” she instructed reporters. “They intentionally got here to destroy, to kill.”

She additionally insisted police have been unarmed when working at unsanctioned demonstrations in Almaty, however she did not make clear whether or not she meant the Jan. 6 rally.

Amid the bloodshed, Tokayev additionally known as in troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led army alliance of six former Soviet states, which helped restore order.

Some noticed the blaming of international instigators as a pretext for bringing within the principally Russian forces.

“In order to invite Russian troops, you want a severe cause … that isn’t an inside standoff with the individuals,” political analyst Dimash Alzhayev mentioned in an interview. “So naturally, (the authorities) wanted to give you terrorists.”

A protester named Marat instructed AP that the authorities “haven’t to date confirmed us a single terrorist,” citing solely the extremely publicized arrest of Vikram Ruzakhunov, a widely known jazz pianist from neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

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The musician appeared on Kazakh tv after his arrest with giant bruises on his face and mentioned within the broadcast he had flown in and was promised money for taking part within the protests.

Kyrgyz authorities protested Ruzakhunov’s arrest and demanded that Kazakhstan launch him. He was freed shortly afterward, and upon returning to Kyrgyzstan mentioned his assertion on Kazakh TV was false — he was visiting a buddy in Almaty and received swept up whereas attempting to go away town.

Ruzakhnunov instructed a Kyrgyz broadcaster that whereas in jail, his cellmates mentioned the quickest manner to get launched was to confess to a false story, in order that’s what he did.

Alzhanov, the analyst, famous that Kazakh state broadcasters amplified the federal government’s message by repeatedly airing video of the turmoil.

“They continued broadcasting the visuals, so the federal government was excited by speaking them to a broad viewers,” he mentioned, including that the state of emergency that was declared offered a pretext to suppress the demonstrations with power.

A protester named Daulet instructed AP that he believed the “safety forces intentionally painted the protesters as some sort of a fringe group ready to riot.”

Beken, the protester who described seeing what he known as “provocateurs,” criticized the safety forces “for taking pictures at their very own individuals.” He mentioned a Jan. 6 rally he attended featured protesters strolling towards the army with a white flag.

“It is unfathomable. I can’t perceive it. How is that this attainable?” he mentioned.

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