As Russian-led troops sent to help quell bloody unrest in Kazakhstan begin to withdraw, AFP looks the protests that left dozens dead and threw the repressive Central Asian country into chaos.
– LPG price hike sparks fury –
Protests erupt at New Year in the town of Zhanaozen in the oil-rich western Mangystau region over an increase in prices for liquified petroleum gas (LPG), which is used for cars.
Unrest spreads to the regional hub of Aktau on the ex-Soviet country’s Caspian Sea coast.
On January 4, thousands of protesters furious at the price rise take to the streets of Almaty, the largest city, with police firing tear gas and stun grenades.
– State of emergency –
Later that night, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev imposes a state of emergency in the city and in the restive west after saying he would cut the price of LPG.
Many chant “Old Man Out!”, a reference to Tokayev’s still-powerful predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Images posted on social media later show a statue of the ex-president being torn down.
– Almaty in chaos –
Tokayev sacks his cabinet early on January 5 in a bid to head off the unprecedented unrest but protesters gather again, blocking roads and storming Almaty’s local government headquarters.
The mayor’s office and the presidential residence in the city are later left in flames.
Internet and mobile phone networks are cut, with the state of emergency extended nationwide.
– ‘Massive attacks’ –
Tokayev accuses the protesters of “massive attacks on law enforcement” that left several dead and many wounded, and claims the country is under attack by “terrorist” groups.
“I intend to act as tough as possible,” he says.
The White House and the United Nations appeal to Kazakh authorities to show “restraint”.
– Appeal to Moscow –
Late on January 5, the embattled president appeals for help to quell the protests from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSO).
Videos on social media show pillaged shops in Almaty and automatic gunfire on the streets. The airport is also ransacked.
Russian-led paratroopers are dispatched.
– Dozens dead, 1,000 wounded –
In a televised address early on January 6, Tokayev says “terrorists” are seizing buildings, infrastructure and small arms, and battling security forces.
Police say they killed “dozens” of protesters overnight as they tried to take over government buildings and police stations. Around 2,000 are arrested.
Eighteen security officers have been killed and 748 wounded in the unrest, local media report. The health ministry says 1,000 people have been wounded.
In a new effort to pacify the protesters, the government sets fuel price limits for six months.
But in the late afternoon, bursts of gunfire echo through the streets of Almaty. Security forces then clear the city’s central square.
– World calls for calm –
The United Nations and United States urge all sides to refrain from violence. The European Union says that sending Russian troops “brings back memories of situations to be avoided” — a reference to the Prague Spring of 1968 and the brutal Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
– ‘Shoot to kill’ –
Tokayev rejects talks with protesters on January 7, saying he had given orders to “shoot to kill without warning”.
He claims Almaty had been attacked by “20,000 bandits” with a “clear plan of attack… and high combat readiness.”
On January 11, UN human rights experts criticise the Kazakh security forces “unrestrained use of force” and the description of protesters as “bandits and terrorists”.
Such terms “should not be used to silence those… protesting about social and economic conditions,” they add.
– Rare criticism –
The same day Tokayev raises eyebrows by criticising his predecessor, saying “a layer of wealthy people” were created under Nazarbayev’s rule and “the time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis.”
On January 12, he visits battled-scared Almaty and vows to “rebuild the city” on the eve the withdrawal of the phased withdrawal of the 2,000 Russian-led CSO troops.