(update 1: adds info on airport, president’s remarks)
Nur-Sultan, Jan 5 (EFE).- Demonstrators protesting surging fuel prices in Kazakhstan have taken over the international airport in the country’s main city, Almaty, after storming several public buildings including the government headquarters earlier on Wednesday.
The mass protests, which began on Tuesday and have spread to cities across the central Asian country, have already led to the dismissal of the government and an internet blackout.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said there had been an unspecified number of “deaths and injuries” among law enforcement personnel during the violence.
In a televised national address, Tokayev promised reforms for the “political transformation” of the country.
But Tokayev also denounced the protesters, whom he called “mobs of bandits” who had attacked security personnel and accused them of being financially motivated.
“The situation is a threat to the security of all Almaty residents. And we cannot tolerate this. In addition to Almaty the situation is tense in other regions, which is why I imposed the state of emergency,” he said.
He announced that he had taken over the leadership of the Security Council of Kazakhstan, headed to date by former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“As head of state and, as of today, chairman of the Security Council, I intend to act with the utmost firmness,” he said.
According to the president, the priority is “the security of our citizens, who turn to us with multiple requests for us to defend them and their families.”
“It is a matter of the security of our State. I am convinced that the people will support me,” he added.
“Together we will overcome this black period in Kazakhstan’s history and come out of it stronger,” he said.
The dismissal of the government and promises of reform failed to quell the protests, which continued in several Kazakh cities. They were particularly violent in Almaty, where more than 500 people were injured, according to local authorities.
“Unfortunately, in the early hours of January 5, the activities of extremist groups intensified. As a result of their criminal actions more than 120 vehicles were burned, including 33 police, ambulance and firefighter vehicles,” Almaty Governor Kanat Taymerdenov reported.
In total, more than 120 stores, 130 cafes and restaurants and about 100 offices of small and medium-sized businesses were looted.
In the city of Aktobe, in the west of the Central Asian nation, protesters also managed to storm the local administrative headquarters, which was surrounded by more than a thousand people, local media reported.
In Kostanay, a city located in the north of the country, dozens of people gathered in front of the local administration, despite the fact that the police cordoned off the building, while in Petropavl, also in northern Kazakhstan, law enforcement officers managed to disperse about fifty demonstrators who also went to the regional seat of government. EFE