Presidential palace on fire in Kazakhstan
Protesters have breached the presidential residence in Almaty and set fire to the inside, as Kazakhstan’s former capital and some other key cities remain gripped by unrest due to anger over a hike in fuel prices.
The building has fallen into the hands of the demonstrators, local media reported, adding that gunshots were heard outside the compound.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wasn’t present, however, as he’s currently working from the country’s capital, Nur-Sultan.
The building in question is known as the ‘old residence’, as the head of state was based there before the Kazakh capital was moved to Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana) in 1997. However, the compound, located in the government district, maintains its official status.
Earlier on Wednesday, the mob made its way into the mayor’s office and several other government buildings in the city, which is home to two million people. Clashes have been taking place in various parts of Almaty, with reports of some protesters using firearms against the military and police.
The authorities have again addressed the public, claiming that Almaty has “come under new attacks by extremists and radicals.” They called upon those who had taken to the streets to disperse, insisting that their “main goal was to avoid further escalation of violence.”
The dramatic events in the second city prompted authorities in the capital to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday. Tensions have also been running high in other areas of the country.
A standoff between police and demonstrators is ongoing, as of Wednesday afternoon, outside the mayor’s office in the western city of Aktobe. There were reports that the building had been taken over by the crowd, but law enforcement has since regained control.
In Aktaum on the Caspian Sea, an angry mob was filmed capturing a military truck that had been transporting servicemen. In the clip, a group of men with large sticks were seen ordering the soldiers out of the vehicle and making them kneel in the sand. Judging by the footage, some of the troops were later beaten up.
Kazakhstan has been engulfed in protests since the New Year after the cost of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) doubled in the resource-rich country in a matter of just days.
The hike came because of a reform which saw the trade in LPG transitioning to an electronic platform. The Kazakh government had previously said it couldn’t maintain the longtime fuel price caps anymore, as the policy forced producers to operate at a deficit.
But the people were not swayed by those arguments, taking to the streets in large numbers in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and elsewhere.
Tuesday night was especially heated in Almaty, with widespread clashes and dozens of cars being set on fire. The authorities reacted by imposing a state of emergency in the city.
The unrest has already resulted in the resignation of the Kazakh cabinet and a promise to maintain government regulation of fuel prices for at least the next six months.