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Troops ordered to fire without warning

Kazakhstan’s authoritarian leader says he has ordered security forces to “fire without warning”, amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also said “20,000 bandits” had attacked the main city of Almaty, the epicentre of protests sparked by a fuel price hike.

He has blamed foreign-trained “terrorists”, without giving evidence.

The interior ministry says 26 “armed criminals” and 18 security officers have been killed so far in the unrest.

In a televised address, Mr Tokayev dismissed calls to hold talks with protesters as “nonsense”, saying: “What kind of talks can we hold with criminals and murderers?”

“We had to deal with armed and well-prepared bandits, local as well as foreign. More precisely, with terrorists. So we have to destroy them, this will be done soon,” he said.

Opposition groups have rejected the authorities’ accusations of terrorism.

Earlier, the president said constitutional order had been largely restored. A BBC correspondent in Almaty said the situation was much quieter after days of violence, although there were some sounds of gunfire and explosions.

Kazakhstan: The basics

Where is it? Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia to the north and China to the east. It is a huge country the size of Western Europe.

Why does it matter? A former Soviet republic which is mainly Muslim with a large Russian minority, it has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors.

Why is it making the news? Fuel riots, which have escalated to become broader protests against the government, have resulted in resignations at the top and a bloody crackdown on protesters.

President Tokayev said peacekeeping forces sent from Russia and neighbouring states had arrived on his request and were in the country on a temporary basis to ensure security.

The force from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) reportedly has about 2,500 soldiers. Mr Tokayev gave “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops to the former Soviet nation.

Internet connection seems to have been restored in some areas, and Kazakh officials and CSTO troops were controlling Almaty’s main airport, a day after it was recaptured from protesters.

The European Commission, which is the EU executive, offered “assistance where we can” to help Kazakhstan resolve the crisis. It also called for an end to the violence, echoing earlier statements from the UN, US, UK and France.

The unrest began on Sunday when the cost of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – which many people in Kazakhstan use to fuel their cars – doubled.

The government has said that fuel price caps will be restored for six months. But the announcement has failed to end the protests, which have broadened to include other political grievances.

Kazakhstan is often described as authoritarian, and most elections are won by the ruling party with nearly 100% of the vote. There is no effective political opposition.

Map of Kazakhstan and neighbours
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