ALMATY--A Russia-led security alliance of ex-Soviet states will send peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan, Armenia's prime minister said on Thursday, after the Kazakh president appealed for their help in quelling violent and deadly protests.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook that an unspecified number of peacekeepers would go to Kazakhstan for a limited period to stabilise the situation after state buildings were torched and the Almaty international airport was seized.
Eight police and national guard troops were killed in the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia's state-owned Sputnik agency quoted the Kazakh interior ministry as saying on Wednesday. Russian news agencies, quoting Kazakh media, later said two soldiers had also been killed in what they described as an anti-terrorist operation at Almaty airport.
Initially sparked by anger at a fuel price rise, the protests have quickly spread to take in wider opposition to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, who retained significant power despite quitting in 2019 after a nearly three-decade rule. Nazarbayev, 81, has been widely seen as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital which bears his name. His family is believed to control much of the economy, the largest in Central Asia. He has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.
The Central Asian nation's reputation for stability under Nazarbayev helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries. But a younger generation is demanding the liberalisation seen in other former satellite states of the Soviet Union. The protests are the worst in Kazakhstan - a country five times the size of France with a population of nearly 19 million people - in over a decade.
Apparently seeking to appease public ire, Tokayev sacked Nazarbayev as head of the powerful Security Council on Wednesday, and took it over himself. He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and removed Nazarbayev's nephew from the No. 2 position on the committee. Tokayev's Cabinet also resigned.
But protests continued, with demonstrators taking control of the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan's biggest city, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Flights were cancelled. Interfax quoted an official as saying the airport had subsequently been cleared of protesters. Reuters was not able to independently confirm the report.
Earlier, riot police used teargas and flash grenades against protesters in Almaty but then appeared to withdraw.
In the early hours of Thursday, in his second televised speech within hours, Tokayev said that he had appealed for help to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. He said foreign-trained "terrorist" gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons, and had taken five aircraft, including foreign ones, at Almaty airport.
"It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me... to help them urgently," Tokayev said. "Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalised, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits. Therefore it is our duty... to take all possible actions to protect our state."
Russian news agencies quoted Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, as saying security had been strengthened around key installations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia uses for space launches.