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Dozens of protesters, police killed as unrest intensifies in Kazakhstan

Dozens of protesters, police killed as unrest intensifies in Kazakhstan
Russian servicemen board a military aircraft on their way to Kazakhstan, at an airfield outside Moscow, Russia, on Thursday. Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE

Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A number of protesters and law enforcement officers were killed during more violence in Kazakhstan on Thursday and rioters broke into government buildings and set some on fire, officials said.

The clashes continued overnight after days of civil unrest, which began as a demonstration against rising fuel prices but signal wider discontent among citizens of the country of 19 million.

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After the city hall in the capital, Almaty was set afire and the Kazakhstan airport was overrun on Wednesday, police opened fire on the angry mob. Internet service was blacked out nationwide amid rising calls for the removal of the authoritarian government.

Demonstrators are seen on Wednesday in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Protests have been going for a few days and have risen in intensity. They began as a show of disapproval over the doubling of fuel prices. Photo by EPA-EFE
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A Russian-led military alliance sent peacekeepers to Kazakhstan overnight to help stabilize the unrest, which began days ago as a protest against the rising cost of liquefied petroleum gas.

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According to the United Nations citing government officials, nearly 1,000 people have been injured in the protests and 12 law enforcement officers have died and another 317 have been injured.

More than 2,000 people have been detained by police, it said.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has asked the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance consisting of forces from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to intervene.

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Tokayev has declared a state of emergency in Almaty until at least Jan. 19.

Meanwhile, world leaders watch with concern the unfolding unrest, which is believed to be the worst Kazakhstan has seen since it declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"We are closely monitoring reports that the Collective Security Treaty Organization has dispatched its collective peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a press conference Thursday. "I will say that the United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violation of human rights."

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"We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions," he said. "We certainly hope it does not come to that."

Britain's foreign ministry also called for calm and for the authorities to resume Internet services and to respect the freedom of speech and expression while condemning the acts of violence and damage to property.

"The UK encourages a peaceful resolution through engagement between the authorities and civil society," a spokesman said in a statement.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement Thursday urged both sides to refrain from violence, while voicing concern over the potential eroding of human rights under the state of emergency.

"States do have the right to declare states of emergency under certain narrow circumstances, but any derogation of human rights is subject to strict requirements of necessity and proportionality," the U.N. human rights chief said. "Certain rights, including the right to life, the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment and the right not to be arbitrarily detained continue to apply in all circumstances."

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