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ALMATY: Kazakhstan’s president on Friday rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of unprecedented unrest, vowing to destroy “armed bandits” and authorising his forces to shoot to kill without warning.

In a hardline address to the nation, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also gave “special thanks” to Russian President Vladimir Putin after a Moscow-led military alliance sent troops to Kazakhstan to help quell the unrest.

Security forces had blocked off strategic areas of Almaty — the country’s largest city and epicentre of the recent violence — and were firing into the air if anyone approached, an eyewitness said.

Elsewhere the city was like a ghost town, with banks, supermarkets and restaurants closed. The few small shops that remained open were quickly running out of food.

Russian planes carrying paratroopers and hardware land in Almaty

Tokayev said order had mostly been restored across the country, after protests this week over fuel prices escalated into widespread violence. “Terrorists continue to damage property… and use weapons against civilians. I have given the order to law enforcement to shoot to kill without warning,” Tokayev said in his third televised address to the nation this week. He ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations as “nonsense”.

“We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly.” Long seen as one of the most stable of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan is facing its biggest crisis in decades.

Protesters stormed government buildings in Almaty on Wednesday and fought running battles with police and the military. The interior ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been killed in the unrest, after earlier reporting “dozens” dead. It said 18 security officers had been killed and more than 740 wounded, and more than 3,800 people detained.

The numbers could not be independently verified and there was no official information about dead and wounded among civilian bystanders.

The full picture of the chaos has often been unclear, with widespread disruptions to communications including mobile phone signals, the blocking of online messengers and hours-long internet shutdowns.

Western countries have called for restraint on all sides and for the respect of people’s right to protest peacefully.

Russian paratroopers land

Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday that nine Il-76 military transport planes carrying paratroopers and hardware had landed in Almaty and that Russian forces had helped to secure the airport.

It is not clear how many troops are being sent in the force — which includes units from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan — but media in Moscow have said the Russian contingent is expected to number less than 5,000.

Protests spread across the nation of 19 million this week in outrage over a New Year increase in prices for liquid petroleum gas (LPG), which is used to fuel many cars in the country.

Thousands took to the streets in Almaty and in the western province of Mangystau, saying the price rise was unfair given oil and gas exporter Kazakhstan’s vast energy reserves.

The protests are the biggest threat so far to the regime established by Kazakhstan’s founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 and hand-picked Tokayev as his successor.

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