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Kazakhstan president declares day of mourning, says protests were 'coup attempt'

Kazakhstan president declares day of mourning, says protests were 'coup attempt'
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared Monday a national day of mourning for the dozens of lives lost during recent clashes between activists and police.  Photo by Kazakh Presidential Press Service/EPA-EFE

Jan. 10 (UPI) -- The president of Kazakhstan said on Monday that protests last week that led to deadly clashes with armed police were attempts to overthrow the government.

President Kassym-Jormat Tokayev called the protesters "terrorists" and said they were involved in an "attempted coup d'etat."

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Tokayev invited Russian troops into the country to help government forces quell the demonstrations. The clashes marked some of the worst unrest in Kazakhstan since the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union over 30 years ago.

Kazakhstan authorities have taken almost 8,000 activists into custody so far. Officials said on Sunday that more than 160 were killed in the fighting, including three children.

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Tokayev declared Monday a national day of mourning for the lives lost during the clashes.

Last week, he declared a state of emergency that will last until at least Jan. 19 after anti-government protesters clashed with Kazakhstan forces. When protesters set Almaty city hall on fire and overran its airport, police responded with live fire and shut down Internet access nationwide.

With the help of Russian troops, the Kazakhstan government said it's now entering a stabilizing phase.

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"All state institutions have been released and the anti-terrorist operation is in its final stage," Deputy Director of the Kazakh Institute of Strategic Studies Sanat Kushkumbayev said, according to the Astana Times.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he has reservations about how Kazakhstan has handled the crisis.

"Well, we have real concerns about the state of emergency that was declared in Kazakhstan," Blinken told ABC News. "I've talked to my counterpart, the foreign minister. We've made clear that we expect the Kazakh government to deal with protesters in ways that respect their rights, that pulls back from violence at the same time. It, of course, has a right to defend its institutions."

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