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Dozens were killed and hundreds injured in Kazakhstan when peaceful protests over rising gasoline costs turned violent from January 2-9. Videos following the incident showed shops, looted buildings and burnt out buildings. During the clashes, most residents of the former capital Almaty remained barricaded in their homes, without an Internet connection. We finally got in touch with a woman who told us about her experience during a week of chaos and terror in a violent city.
After a week of protests, riots and brutal repression, Almaty citizens emerged from behind closed doors to find their city turned upside down. Amateur photos show scenes of destruction in the streets – burning cars, looted shops.
Security forces initially appeared to be overwhelmed by the protesters who attacked City Hall on 4 January. But that evening they began a violent crackdown.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called on Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to help restore order. On January 7, the president gave permission for police to “shoot without warning” and “shoot to kill” protesters. Nearly 8000 people were arrested.
Unidentified groups are beginning to provoke crowds and loot all over the city.
After several days of Internet disconnection, the residents of Almaty were finally able to get a stable connection. When she was finally able to communicate, Lazat, who lives in Almaty, responded to a message from the France 24 observer team. She told us how she felt in the city, now that a degree of calm had returned.
We are still in shock. How could something like this happen in our city?
It hurts to see my favorite stores in ruins. And to see the pride of our city, the buildings of the Soviet architectural style, completely destroyed. It’s also shocking to see the losses that small businesses incur. This was their livelihood and the rioters destroyed everything.
When protests against rising gasoline prices began peacefully in the capital on January 4, few people could have imagined that the violence would end.
The president agreed to reduce the price of liquefied petroleum gas on the evening of the fourth of January, and Lazat saw that this would be the end of the protests.
But the movement took another fatal turn.
In an instant, everything turned into a complete chaos that shocked everyone. Groups of unknown people began to provoke the crowd and loot all over the city.
They attacked police officers and destroyed buildings and shops in the city. These were not just ordinary civilians. Most ordinary people, by that point, had been purged.
>> Read more on The Observers: Protesters storm public buildings in Kazakhstan: ‘A lot of people have nothing to lose’
Security forces used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Several videos showed amateur demonstrators armed with batons and shields. Another video, posted on January 5, appears Protesters take guns from the trunk of the car.
According to Amnesty International, the police also used firearms.
hand over weapons
Almaty, Kazakhstan pic.twitter.com/fVCQ2ZeGoX
– Bashkarma (KarmaBash) January 5 2022
This video posted on January 5, 2022 shows protesters carrying firearms.
You can hear gunfire in this video of civilians, which was posted on Telegram on January 5. There is a corpse on the ground.
Like many others, Lisa did not leave her house once between January 5 and 9. Text messages and loudspeaker announcements asked local residents to stay indoors during the “anti-terrorist” operation. Several independent news websites have been blocked. And Lizat tried to stay informed despite the internet outage:
The only way to get information is over the phone, from friends and family, or if we watch TV. […] A shoe store near us was robbed and we heard the sound [from our home]. We live downtown and heard gunfire all night long for several days in a row. This made us very afraid. We were afraid it would never stop.
‘Some people helped clean, others made food and collected warm clothes for the soldiers’
On January 9, the Minister of Information published the death toll, indicating that 164 people had been killed. Later that day, he withdrew the statement, citing a “technical error” without releasing new numbers.
A day of national mourning was held on January 10 in memory of the civilian and security victims.
Lazat says life is returning to some semblance of normality in Almaty:
Calm is slowly returning to Almaty. The internet has been working fine for the past two days. Public transportation is back up and running again and people are heading to work. Markets and shops opened back up. At first, there was a shortage of bread and vegetables, but now things are back to normal and store shelves are reappearing.
Volunteers band together to help struggling businesses, as well as soldiers who have been keeping an eye on the city. Some people try to help clean things up. Others make food and collect warm clothes and socks for soldiers.
almaty_kris_p At such a difficult time, people’s solidarity and help each other shows that everything will be fine! Thanks to those who are not indifferent to their neighbors 🙏 #almaty #almaty #recommendations ♬ these days – Niko
This video, posted on TikTok on January 12, shows a man in a pickup truck, explaining to someone that he is delivering food to those who need it.
In addition to stopping the increase in gas prices, the demonstrators also called for the departure of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country for 28 years. Despite relinquishing his presidency to Kasim-Jomart Tokayev in 2019, Nazarbayev remains the leader of the country’s Security Council.
President Tokayev dismissed Nazarbayev from this position on January 5. The former intelligence chief was arrested on suspicion of treason. The Kazakh president, during a video conference on January 10, accused foreign fighters of participating in the riots, which he called “terrorist attacks” and an “attempted coup”.