Police in Kazakhstan have killed dozens of protesters who tried to storm government buildings, according to media reports, as a Russia-led military alliance approved a peacekeeping force to the Central Asian country to quell unrest triggered by a rise in fuel prices.
Saltanet Azirbek, spokeswoman for the Kazakh police, told Khabar-24 television channel on Thursday that “extremist forces” had attempted overnight to storm administrative building as well as police departments in the country’s largest city, Almaty.
“The dozens of attackers were eliminated, their identities are being established,” she said.
The casualties came amid continued unrest in Kazakhstan, with hundreds of protesters rallying in Almaty’s main square on Thursday, despite the presence of dozens of troops and several armoured personnel carriers.
A Reuters news agency journalist on the scene reported hearing gunshots as the troops approached the crowds.
The fresh protests come a day after demonstrators stormed the presidential palace and the mayor’s office in Almaty and set both on fire. Crowds also briefly overran the Almaty airport on Wednesday, prompting several flight cancellations.
The Kazakh Interior Ministry said at least eight police and national guard troops had been killed in the unrest while 300 were injured.
As tensions escalated, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev late on Wednesday appealed for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-based alliance of six former Soviet countries.
CSTO’s chairman, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, said on Thursday that the alliance has now approved sending an unspecified number of peacekeepers to Kazakhstan.
In a statement on Facebook, Pashinyan said the troops will be sent “for a limited period with the aim of stabilisation and normalisation of the situation” in Kazakhstan.
He also blamed “outside interference” for the mass protests.
State television reported on Thursday that the National Bank of Kazakhstan had decided to suspend work of banks in the country for the safety of their workers, while Middle Eastern carriers flydubai and Air Arabia said they have cancelled flights to Almaty.
The Kazakh president had earlier vowed to take harsh measures to quell the unrest and declared a two-week state of emergency for the whole country, expanding one that had been announced for both the capital of Nur-Sultan and the largest city of Almaty.
The emergency decree imposed an overnight curfew and restricted movement into and around urban areas.
Tokayev had also sacked the cabinet in response to the unrest.
As tensions escalated on Wednesday night, Kazakh news sites became inaccessible and the global watchdog organization Netblocks said the country was experiencing a pervasive internet blackout.
The Russian news agency Tass reported that internet access was restored in Almaty by early Thursday.