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Kazakhstan unrest: Government restores fuel price cap after bloodshed

Troops in Almaty, 6 January

Image source, Reuters

Kazakhstan’s government is restoring vehicle fuel price caps for six months, after days of deadly unrest.

Petrol and diesel prices will also be capped for the same period.

The price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a common car fuel in the Central Asian state, doubled when the limit was removed this week.

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It comes after protesters took to the streets in Almaty, the largest city, and in the western province of Mangistau.

Though originally sparked by the fuel rise, the protests quickly 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.

Analysts told the BBC these protests were not surprising in a country with no electoral democracy – where people need to take to the streets to be heard.

As the unrest escalated on Wednesday, the office of Almaty’s mayor and a presidential residence were set alight, Reuters news agency reports.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev claimed the unrest was the work of foreign-trained “terrorist gangs”, and appealed to a Russian-led military alliance – the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – for help in quelling the protests.

Russia is sending paratroopers to Kazakhstan, and said it would consult with the country and allies on ways to support the government’s “counter-terrorist operation”. According to the CSTO, the troops are a peacekeeping force and will be deployed to protect state and military installations.

Neither Moscow nor President Tokayev provided evidence for the claim of overseas involvement in the protests.

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Police in Kazakhstan said they had killed dozens of people described as rioters overnight, when they moved to regain control in Almaty.

State television reported that 13 security officers had been killed – two of whom were decapitated – and 353 wounded in the unrest. The health ministry said that 1,000 people had been wounded overall.

Rights group Amnesty International called on Kazakhstan to end what it called its “repressive response”. Marie Struthers, the group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, called the protests “a direct consequence of the authorities’ widespread repression of basic human rights”.

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Burnt down buildings and long queues

By Abdujalil Abdurasulov, BBC News, Almaty

The bustling square of Almaty has turned into a conflict zone, complete with burnt down buildings and vehicles. Many people are scared to go outside, especially at night because clashes are continuing. The sounds of shooting and explosions remind people how dangerous it can be to leave their homes.

Local vigilante groups block the entrances to their villages near Almaty to prevent looting. Checkpoints and makeshift barriers block the entrance to the city, so people use narrow streets to get in and out of Almaty.

There are big queues at petrol stations. Residents struggle to buy food because shopping malls, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants are all closed, only small shops are still open. The internet blockade continues, so people cannot withdraw money, or top up their phones.

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In a bid to subdue the protests, president Tokayev had earlier fired his powerful predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who held a national security role since stepping down as president, and the entire government also resigned.

In the UK, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We condemn the acts of violence and destruction of property in Almaty and we will be co-ordinating further with our allies on what further steps we should take.”

One consequence of the unrest has been its effect on bitcoin, Reuters reports. Kazakhstan is the world’s second-largest miner of bitcoin after the US, and an internet shutdown saw bitcoin’s “hashrate” – the measure of computing power of machines plugged into its network – dropping by more than 10% on Wednesday.

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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, dwarfing in land mass the other former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Why does it matter? It has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors. A mainly Muslim republic with a significant Russian minority, it has largely escaped the civil strife seen in other parts of Central Asia.

Why is it making the news? Fuel riots have rocked the government, resulting in resignations at the top and a bloody crackdown on protesters.

Map of Kazakhstan and neighbours

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