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Reports say 18 Kazakh police killed, over 700 others wounded in unrest

Riot police officers patrol in a street after unprecedented protests over a hike in energy prices spun out of control in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 5, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

At least 18 Kazakh police have reportedly been killed and more than 740 others injured as authorities in the ex-Soviet country try to quell unrest triggered by a sharp rise in fuel prices.

The ongoing unrest is far from over, even after protests resulted in the resignation of the government.

A state of emergency has been declared in the country’s largest city, Almaty, where the protesters set fire to the mayor’s office and stormed other political offices. Similar protests are taking place in other provinces.

On Thursday, the number of casualties among the Kazakh security officers rose to 18 dead and 748 others wounded, Russia's Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported, citing the interior ministry, which added that 2,298 people have been also detained.

The protests began after a price hike on liquid petroleum gas (LPG) tuned into direct clashes with police on Wednesday. LPG is widely used to fuel cars in the west of the country.

“The most difficult situation remains in Almaty, where armed men seized and partially destroyed a number of the premises of state bodies, financial organizations, television companies and trade facilities,” the Russian news agencies cited Kazakhstan's interior ministry as saying in a statement.

Protest rallies have already spread across Kazakhstan with angry protesters saying the price rise is unfair given Kazakhstan's vast energy reserves.

“Patrolling by squads of police and the National Guard has been intensified in the regions, (and) roadblocks have been set up,” the ministry said. “Criminals are being identified and detained or eliminated in the event of armed resistance to lawful demands to lay down their weapons.”

On Thursday, the United Nations called on all sides in the country to refrain from violence and seek a peaceful resolution to their grievances.

“People have the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” said UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet in a statement. “At the same time, protesters, no matter how angry or aggrieved they may be, should not resort to violence against others.”

She also called for the release of people held solely for exercising their right to peaceful protest.

On Wednesday, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a televised address that he would act as tough as possible on those who broke the law by staging “massive attacks” on security forces during the protests.

“As president, I am obliged to protect the safety and peace of our citizens, to worry about the integrity of Kazakhstan,” the president said in Russian on Kazakh television.

The unrest started on Sunday, after the government almost doubled fuel prices.

Russia has also reacted to the unrest, warning against any outside interference in the Central Asian nation.

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