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Russian-led peacekeeping troops to start pulling out, Kazakh leader says

Store worker in a looted shop
A store worker walks through a shop that was looted during unrest in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
(Associated Press)

The president of Kazakhstan announced Tuesday that a Russian-led security alliance will start pulling out its troops from the country in two days after completing its mission.

The mostly Russian troops were deployed to Kazakhstan last week by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of six former Soviet states, at the president’s request amid the worst public unrest Kazakhstan has faced since gaining independence 30 years ago.

Protests over soaring fuel prices erupted in the oil- and gas-rich Central Asian nation of 19 million on Jan. 2 and quickly spread across the country, with political slogans reflecting wider discontent over the authoritarian government. Over the next few days, the demonstrations turned extremely violent, with dozens of civilians and law enforcement officers killed.

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In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital and largest city, protesters set government buildings on fire and briefly seized the airport. By the weekend, the unrest had been largely quelled.

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry on Tuesday reported that a total of 9,900 people were detained in the country over the unrest.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on foreign-backed “terrorists” and insisted that his request for help to the CSTO was justified.

Intense protests have ripped through the oil-rich Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan since Sunday, with dozens of demonstrators and 12 police killed.

“When this decision was being made, we could have completely lost control over Almaty, which was being torn apart by terrorists. Had we lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and the entire country,” Tokayev told Kazakhstan’s Parliament on Tuesday.

The president said that the CSTO had largely completed its mission in the country and would start withdrawing its troops in two days — a process that should take no longer than 10 days.

Asked whether such a move was premature — the troops started arriving in Kazakhstan only five days ago — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “utterly and completely” Kazakhstan’s prerogative. “It is their analysis, and we have no right to interfere,” Peskov said.

Tokayev also appointed a new prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, on Tuesday. Kazakhstan’s government resigned last week in what was seen as one of several concessions aimed at mollifying the protesters, along with a 180-day cap on fuel prices and the ouster of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s former longtime leader, from his influential post of head of the National Security Council.

Smailov, 49, previously served as finance minister and first deputy prime minister. Tokayev said the new premier’s “view of the future of the economy is valid.”

Life in Almaty, which was affected most by the violence, started returning to normal this week, with public transportation resuming operation and malls reopening. Owners of shops that were looted during the unrest assessed the damage.

Galina Karpenko’s underwear store was ransacked, and she said she lost about $10,000 in goods and damage.

“This is not a small sum for me — it’s really not. I closed several outlets because of the crisis as we couldn’t afford the rent, and now my favorite outlet that was turning a profit and feeding my family took a hit,” Karpenko said. “I’m so distressed. God is my witness, I don’t know how to feed my kids.”


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