MOSCOW (AP) – Kazakhstan’s president announced on Tuesday that the Russian-led security coalition will begin pulling its troops from the Central Asian nation within two days of completing its mission.
Protests over rising fuel prices broke out on January 2 in the oil and gas-rich Central Asian nation and quickly spread across the country, with political slogans reflecting widespread discontent over the country’s authoritarian government. Over the next few days, demonstrations turned violent, killing dozens of civilians and law enforcement officers.
Read more: Nearly 8,000 detained during unrest in Kazakhstan
In Kazakhstan’s former capital and largest city, Almaty, protesters torched government buildings and briefly seized the airport. By the weekend the unrest had largely calmed down.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-backed “terrorists” for the unrest and insisted that his request for help from the CSTO was justified.
“While this decision was being made, we could have completely lost control over Almaty, which was broken into by terrorists. If we lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and the whole country,” Tokayev told Kazakhstan on Tuesday. told the Parliament.
The president said the CSTO had largely completed its mission and would begin withdrawing its troops in two days – a process that would take no more than 10 days.
Asked whether such a move was premature – troops began arriving in Kazakhstan only five days ago – Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “totally and utterly” Kazakhstan’s prerogative. “This is their analysis, and we have no right to interfere,” Peskov said.
Tokayev also appointed a new prime minister and a new cabinet on Tuesday, with some deputy prime ministers and ministers from the previous government retaining their positions.
Read more: Kazakhstan says 164 killed in week of protests
Kazakhstan’s government resigned last week in one of several concessions aimed at pacifying protesters, along with a 180-day cap on fuel prices and the country’s former longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev as head of the National Security Council. was to be removed from his influential post. ,
The new prime minister, 49-year-old Alikhan Smilov, previously served as Kazakhstan’s finance minister and its first deputy prime minister.
Life in Almaty, which has been hit by the harshest violence, returned to normal this week, with public transport restarting and malls reopening. The owners of shops that were looted in the unrest were assessing the damage.
Galina Karpenko’s underwear shop was ransacked, and she said she lost about $10,000 in stolen goods and damages.
“It’s no small amount for me. It really isn’t. Due to the crisis, I closed many outlets as we could not pay the rent. And now, my favorite outlet that was making a profit and feeding my family got hit,” she said. “I’m so distressed, God is my witness, I don’t know how to feed my kids.”
Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that 9,900 people had been detained in connection with the unrest. Tokayev’s office also said that 338 criminal investigations have been launched into mass unrest and attacks on law enforcement officers.