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Protesters killed by 12 officers in Kazakhstan

MOSCOW (AP), -- Several hundred protestors and twelve police officers were killed in violent demonstrations that erupted in Kazakhstan. The violence saw government buildings set ablaze and stormed, authorities announced Thursday. In the midst of rising unrest, one police officer was shot to death. This is a serious threat to central Asian authoritarian rule.

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Protesters killed by 12 officers in Kazakhstan

Demonstrators attempted to storm additional buildings throughout the night after breaking into the offices of the president and the mayor in the country's biggest city. Saltanat Azirbek, a police spokesperson, said that "dozens of attackers had been eliminated." She used a common term to describe the death of extremists. According to the channel, 12 police officers were killed and 353 others were injured in the unrest.

Although the president appeared to initially try to placate the protesters at first, he promised to take harsh measures to end the unrest. He blamed "terrorist band" and called for the help of a Russia-led military alliance. Two other cities and the airport in Almaty were closed. On Thursday, internet access was also severely disrupted, preventing Kazakh news sites from being accessed.

Tens of thousands of protestors, some carrying shields and clubs, took to the streets recently in one of the most violent demonstrations since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union over three decades. The protests started over the near-doubling in price of a particular type of fuel for vehicles. However, their rapid spread and size suggest that they are indicative of wider discontent within the country that has been under rule of the same party since independence.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia-led military alliance), announced Thursday morning that it would send peacekeeper soldiers to Kazakhstan upon Tokayev's request.

This is the first military operation by the CSTO. It's a sign that Kazakhstan's neighbours, especially Russia, are worried about the spread of unrest.

Russia and Kazakhstan have close relations. They share a 7600-kilometer (4700 mile) border that runs through open steppes. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is Russia's manned space launch facility.

It is not known what the size and duties will be of the peacekeeping force. According to the CSTO (which also includes Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus), Russia has already started sending troops. However, Erbol Sutanbaev (Kyrgyzstan's presidential spokesperson) stated that Russia's contingent needs to be approved by parliament. He also said that troops will not engage in protests.

Tokayev declared a state of emergency in Kazakhstan for two weeks, which includes an overnight curfew as well as a ban on religious services. This is a setback for Kazakhstan's large Orthodox Christian population, who observe Christmas every Friday.

Kazakhstan, one of five Central Asian republics, is the richest and largest. It spans a vast territory that is the same size as Western Europe, and it sits on colossal natural gas, oil, and uranium reserves. It shares a long border with Russia and also has one with China. Kazakhstan's oil and mineral wealth makes it strategic and economically important.

Despite Kazakhstan's natural wealth and solid middle class, financial hardship is common in the country. Some areas of the country are also unhappy about poor living conditions. Many Kazakhs are also unhappy with the rule of the ruling party which has more than 80% of parliament's seats.

Protests seem to lack a leader or demand. The anger expressed in recent days was not directed at Tokayev but at Nursultan Nazabayev who was the first president of Kazakhstan and continued to have enormous influence even after his resignation in 2019. Protesters shouted "Shalket!" ("Old Man Go") in reference to Nazarbayev who was the dominant figure in Kazakhstan's politics, and was characterized by a moderate cult.

The government announced its resignation after demonstrations reached Almaty and Nur-Sultan. However, Tokayev stated that the ministers would remain in their positions until a new Cabinet was formed. It is not clear if the resignations will have any significant impact.

Prices for the fuel liquefied petroleum gasoline nearly doubled at the beginning of the year as the government began to remove price controls in its efforts to transition to a market economy.

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