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Peacekeepers sent to Kazakhstan amid state of emergency, protests over energy prices

Peacekeepers sent to Kazakhstan amid state of emergency, protests over energy prices
People protest during rally over a hike in energy prices in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday. Protesters stormed the mayor's office in Almaty, as Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency in the capital until January 19. Photo by EPA-EFE

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- A Russian-led military alliance Wednesday night said it will be sending peacekeepers to Kazakhstan where a state of emergency was declared earlier in the day for the capital city of Nur-Sultan and its largest city, Almaty, after protests over energy prices turned violent.

Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia and chairman of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, announced the deployment via Facebook, stating the peacekeepers will intervene in Kazakhstan "for a limited period of time in order to stabilize and normalize the environment."

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The unrest, he said, had "arisen as a result of external intervention."

The number of peacekeepers to be deployed was not mentioned nor when they would arrive in country or leave.

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The announcement came a few hours after Pashinyan said Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had appealed for support from the alliance and that he would immediately start consultations with member nations.

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Tokayev earlier dismissed the government as he declared the state of emergency. It appeared to be a bid to concede to protester demands.

Internet access was cut in Kazakhstan by Kazakhtelecom, the country's largest telecommunications company, as demonstrators demanded the ouster of the authoritarian government.

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Police in Almaty used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets against protesters who stormed the mayor's office.

Hundreds of protesters, some armed with rubber truncheons, battled police in Almaty and seized some police vehicles, The New York Times reported. The local police said 120 cars, including 33 police vehicles were burned, some 400 businesses damaged and more than 200 protesters were detained while the Internal Affairs Ministry said eight law enforcement had died.

At least one fire broke out during the protest at the Almaty office of Nur Otan, Kazakhstan's ruling political party.

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A document published on the Kazakhstan president's website said the state of emergency includes a ban on mass gatherings, an overnight curfew and restrictions on entering or leaving Almaty.

It was the fourth straight day of protests over a doubling of the price for liquefied petroleum gas.

The protest began in the western region of the country and spread from there. Thousands of protesters were in the streets throughout Kazakhstan Wednesday.

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Internet-service watcher NetBlocks reported the Internet blackout began at about noon but service was restored hours later when the president gave a speech concerning protecting the state.

The country, however, has again been submerged in a nationwide Internet blackout.

Tokayev's office said he has appointed Alikhan Smailov as acting prime minister.

Tokayev tweeted that the violence was caused by "destructive individuals who want to undermine the stability and unity of our society," and that the government would meet "the socio-economic demands" of protesters.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry posted a statement to Twitter early Thursday blaming the unrest on "terrorist groups trained outside the country."

In the United States, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, condemned the violence and called for restraint by both the government and the protesters.

"We ask for all Kazakhstanis to respect and defend constitutional institutions, human rights and media freedom, including through the restoration of Internet service," he said in a statement. "We urge all parties to find a peaceful resolution of the state of emergency."

The European Union issued a similar statement, calling Kazakhstan an important partner and that it expects the nation to uphold its commitments to freedom of the press and access to information, online and off.

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"While recognizing the right to peaceful demonstration, the European Union expects that they remain non-violent and avoid any incitement to violence," the union said. "The European Union also calls upon authorities to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protest and proportionality in the use of force when defending its legitimate security interests, and to uphold its international commitments."

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