The oil-rich central state of Kazakhstan is in turmoil tonight with at least 30 protesters and 18 police officers killed in rioting sparked by soaring energy prices.
One police officer was reportedly found beheaded after being cornered by rioters.
Police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek said on state news channel Khabar-24 that protesters had attempted to storm government buildings in the country's largest city, Almaty, and "dozens of attackers were liquidated” as police tried to repel them.
Government sources have blamed the protests on “international terrorists,” and Russia has sent paratroopers to reinforce the Kazakh police.
Vladimir Putin is keen to strengthen Russia's military presence in Kazakhstan, where Russia has significant assets including military bases and the space launch facility at Baikonur
Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev says he will take harsh measures to put an end to the protests and declared a two-week state of emergency for the whole country.
Public protests are illegal in Kazakhstan and previous unrest has been put down brutally.
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One protester, a 58-year-old construction worker who gave her name as Saule, told the AFP news agency that she saw security forces open fire on demonstrators.
"We saw the deaths," she said. "Straight away about 10 were killed."
While the protesters were originally reacting to high fuel price rises , the unrest has developed into more general protests over 30 years of single-party rule.
There’s no effective opposition party in Kazakhstan, and the ruling party gets 100% of the vote in every election.
The protesters don’t appear to have any one specific leader or demands, but many demonstrators have been heard chanting "old man go," in what appears to be a reference to Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Nazarbayev took power when the country gained its independence in 1991 and officially stepped down in 2019 but is seen as still wielding massive power in the country.
Most of Kazakhstan’s government has resigned after President Tokayev said the government had failed to carry out "one of its main tasks – keeping inflation in check".
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