Kazakh president says constitutional order has largely been restored By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Kazakh law enforcement officers block a street leading to Akorda, the official presidential residence, after protests against the government after authorities decided to lift liquefied gas price caps in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

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By Olzhas Auyezov

ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Friday that constitutional order has been largely restored in the Central Asian country that was ravaged by unrest this week, his office quoted him in a statement.

The Kazakh Interior Ministry said in a separate statement that 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 of them arrested, while 18 police officers and soldiers of the National Guard had been killed since the protests began.

“An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. Law and order forces are working hard. Constitutional order has largely been restored in all regions of the country,” said Tokayev.

“The local authorities are in control of the situation. But terrorists are still using weapons and damaging citizens’ property, so anti-terrorist operations should continue until the militants are completely eliminated,” he added.

On Friday morning, Reuters correspondents saw armored personnel carriers and military personnel in the main square of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, where soldiers fired at protesters the day before.

A few hundred meters away, Reuters correspondents saw a body in a badly damaged civilian car.

In another part of town, they saw a looted shop that used to sell ammunition. The correspondents also saw military vehicles and about 100 people in military uniforms in another square in Almaty.

A peacekeeping force from the Moscow-led military alliance of former Soviet states, which Tokayev convened this week, is currently arriving in Kazakhstan, but is not involved in combat operations or “eliminating militants,” the Tokayev government said.

The troops of the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) will provide cover and a security function, it said.

The entire peacekeeping force of the CSTO will comprise around 2,500 men and will stay in Kazakhstan for a few days or weeks, the RIA news agency quoted the alliance’s general secretary on Thursday.

The violence is unprecedented in a state that has been firmly ruled since the Soviet era by Head of State Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who, despite his resignation as president three years ago, kept the reins.

The uprising, which began as a protest against a fuel price hike on New Year’s Day, grew on Wednesday as protesters stormed and set fire to public buildings in Almaty and other cities shouting anti-Nazarbayev slogans. Protesters accused Nazarbayev’s family and allies of amassing enormous wealth while the nation of 19 million remained poor.

The unrest has resulted in most of the internet and banks across the country being closed.

Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor, Tokayev, blamed the foreign-trained terrorists for the unrest earlier this week.

The identity of the detained militants will be determined and an investigation will be carried out to determine whether they belong to an extremist organization, the Tokayev government said on Friday.

Tokayev will speak to the nation on Friday, his government said, urging the people of Almaty to restrict their travel in the city while the “search for the remaining bandits hiding is ongoing”.

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