Kazakhstan claims country ‘stabilized’ as capital police search door to door for ‘violators of public order’

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Kazakhstan's traffic police and soldiers control a road in Almaty on Saturday.© Vladimir Tretyakov/AP Kazakhstan’s traffic police and soldiers control a road in Almaty on Saturday.While an ongoing Internet blackout makes the situation on the ground difficult to verify, Interior Ministry officials claimed the country had “stabilized” – as a separate English-language message from a presidential aide slammed foreign media for creating what he called a “false impression that the Kazakhstan government has been targeting peaceful protesters.”

The claims, apparently aimed at the international community, appear to be part of an effort to change the public narrative after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a shoot-to-kill order to security forces during a nationally televised address.

They come as law enforcement in the country’s capital Nur-Sultan begin door-to-door searches to root out what the city’s law enforcement chief called “violators of public order” and as the Almaty airport has been closed for days. Authorities have urged citizens to stay inside.

In a video statement posted to YouTube, Erzhan Kazykhan, special representative of the president for international cooperation, acknowledged Sunday that the demonstrations over energy price hikes started peacefully on Jan. 2 in Kazakhstan’s western regions. Kazykhan said the protests were then “hijacked by terrorists and both local and external groups speaking foreign languages” but did not provide evidence to support these assertions.

KAZAKHSTAN  JANUARY 9, 2022: BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers are seen at the Almaty airfield as Russian peacekeepers arrive in Kazakhstan for an CSTO mission. Kazakhstan's President Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency over mass unrest in the country and asked the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for assistance. Kazakhstan has been gripped by unrest since 2 January 2022 sparked by a rise in the price for liquefied petroleum gas used for vehicles. Video screen grab/Russian Defence Ministry/TASS

A STILL IMAGE TAKEN FROM A VIDEO PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
 (Photo by Russian Defence Ministry\TASS via Getty Images)KAZAKHSTAN JANUARY 9, 2022: BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers are seen at the Almaty airfield as Russian peacekeepers arrive in Kazakhstan for an CSTO mission. Kazakhstan’s President Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency over mass unrest in the country and asked the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for assistance. Kazakhstan has been gripped by unrest since 2 January 2022 sparked by a rise in the price for liquefied petroleum gas used for vehicles. Video screen grab/Russian Defence Ministry/TASS A STILL IMAGE TAKEN FROM A VIDEO PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Photo by Russian Defence Ministry\TASS via Getty Images)The Nur-Sultan law enforcement chief, Yerzhan Sadenov, encouraged residents to report any information they have on “dubious persons” as authorities conduct the door-to-door checks. In the Telegram video message Sunday, he echoed the government’s line that the city is “under control.”

In Kazakhstan, where protests are relatively rare – and the authoritarian government faces little opposition – the Internet blackout throughout most of the country has limited the flow of information. Very few members of the media, especially foreign journalists, have been able to report from the ground because of closed borders.

Darina Zhunussova, a student of Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan’s capital, wrote on Twitter, “We can’t trust anyone, we don’t know which sources to believe, we sit for days with no access to internet, we can hardly reach out to our families and friends. We’re scared.”

Kazykhan, the presidential aide, said that “peacekeeping” forces from a Russia-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, will remain in Kazakhstan “for a short period of time” and “are not involved in the elimination of militant groups and terrorists.” About 2,500 foreign troops landed in Kazakhstan on Thursday after Tokayev’s appealed to the CSTO for assistance.

The resource-rich Central Asian country had long been attractive for foreign investment, something government officials may be trying to protect.

Protesters in recent days stormed government buildings nationwide and briefly held the Almaty airport. The bulk of the violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators has taken place in Almaty, where several government buildings were seized and set ablaze Wednesday, and near constant gunfire could be heard on the streets into the weekend as the government announced it was carrying out an “antiterrorist operation” that “eliminated dozens.”

Armed riot police officers detain a protester during a security operation in Almaty on Saturday.© Vasily Krestyaninov/AP Armed riot police officers detain a protester during a security operation in Almaty on Saturday.More than 5,000 people have been detained, according to a Kazakh television report.

The Kazakhstan Interior Ministry has said at least 16 law enforcement officers have been killed with more than 1,300 injured, but the death toll among demonstrators is not clear.

Videos on social media showed people lining up at morgues to see whether their relatives are among the dead.

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