Dozens of people, including citizens and police officers, have been killed as protests continue to rage in Kazakhstan, which is witnessing the worst street unrest since gaining independence 30 years ago.
As the crisis escalated, state television on Thursday reported that two members of the security forces had been found decapitated in Almaty, the largest city.
There were no details on civilian deaths; it is difficult to independently verify reports in the tightly controlled state, where an internet blackout took place on Wednesday.
Rising fuel prices triggered protests during the weekend in the vast former Soviet, Central Asian nation, but the rallies have since morphed into anti-government riots, feeding off resentment of more than three decades of rule by ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
In response, Nazarbayev’s handpicked successor, the current Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has sacked the country’s government and declared a nationwide two-week state of emergency. He also invited troops from a Russian-headed military alliance of former Soviet states into Kazakhstan in a bid to restore order.
But so far the moves have failed to ease the chaos, and the European Union has warned Russia must respect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty as its involvement increases.
Here are all the latest updates:
Explosion, gunfire heard in Almaty: Reuters
An explosion and gunfire were heard near the main square of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, Reuters correspondents reported from the scene.
Military vehicles were seen moving towards the square, according to Reuters witnesses
How the Kazakhstan crisis may have a ripple effect
Read our analysis on where Russia stands on the crisis and why leaders in other Central Asian nations are keeping a close eye on developments.
Kazakh uranium miner says production continuing as normal
Kazakh firm Kazatomprom, the world’s biggest uranium producer, says it is operating normally with no impact on output or exports.
“Uranium mining is going according to plan there have been no stoppages. The company is fulfilling its export contracts,” a Kazatomprom spokesperson said.
Uranium prices have soared in recent days amid the unrest in Kazakhstan.
EU calls on Russia to respect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty
The European Union says Russia must respect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty and independence as Moscow deploys paratroopers to the former Soviet republic.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, also urged restraint on all sides.
“The violence must be stopped. We are also calling for restraint from all parties and a peaceful resolution of the situation. Now obviously, the EU is ready and willing to support a dialogue in the country,” an EU spokesperson said.
Russia says more measures possible to boost security
Russia says it will consult with neighbouring Kazakhstan and other allies on possible further moves to support a “counter-terrorist” operation there and unblock critical infrastructure.
“We regard the recent events in a friendly country as an attempt, inspired from the outside, to undermine the security and integrity of the state by force, using trained and organised armed formations,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia has already sent troops to Kazakhstan as part of a peacekeeping force deployed by the Moscow-headed Collective Security Treaty Organization.
More than 1,000 people injured: Report
Russia’s TASS news agency quotes the Kazakh health ministry as saying that more than 1,000 people have been injured since the protests started, and more than 400 of them are in hospital.
Caspian Pipeline Consortium says operating normally
The Caspian Pipeline Consortium, a group that runs Kazakhstan’s main crude oil blend to export terminals, says it is continuing to operate normally.
CPC is owned by a consortium that includes Russia’s Transneft, Kazakh KazMunayGas, Chevron Caspian Pipeline Consortium Company and LUKARCO BV among other firms.
CPC’s facilities in Kazakhstan are based in the province of Atyrau.
‘Authorities have hit back hard’
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Georgia, says internet restrictions in Kazakhstan make it difficult to determine exactly what is taking place on the ground.
“But we are able to build up a picture and that is that the authorities have hit back hard overnight and into today to retake control of the centre of Almaty … and to retake control of the airport, which it has been confirmed was overtaken by protesters yesterday,” said Forestier-Walker, an expert on Central Asia.
“We are also aware of gunfire on the streets and I have seen video, unconfirmed, of morgues full of bodies of young men, [who were] presumably protesters … and the government are also saying that they have suffered casualties … so, unfortunately, it’s looking like a bloodbath is taking place in Kazakhstan at the moment.”
Protesters, police killed in Almaty
Police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek says that demonstrators attempted to storm government buildings overnight in the country’s largest city, Almaty, and that “dozens of attackers were liquidated”.
Meanwhile, state television reported that 13 members of Kazakhstan’s security forces had died, including two who had been decapitated.
Moscow-led alliance sends troops to Kazakhstan
A military alliance of former Soviet states says it has sent paratroopers into Kazakhstan as part of an international peacekeeping force to quell the unrest.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had appealed for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – to intervene after blaming foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs for his country’s violent protests.
“Peacekeeping forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation were sent to the Republic of Kazakhstan for a limited time to stabilise and normalise the situation,” the CSTO secretariat said in a statement posted online by the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
Explainer: What is behind the protests rocking Kazakhstan?
The chaos in tightly controlled Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, was triggered by a sudden spike in the price of car fuel at the start of the year.
But the roots of the mass discontent run much deeper, with protesters venting fury over the entire political system.
For an in-depth explainer on what’s really driving the demonstrations, click here.
Airlines cancel flights to Almaty
Middle East carriers FlyDubai and Air Arabia have cancelled services to Almaty as unrest continues.
A FlyDubai spokesperson said the airline had cancelled its two return Dubai-Almaty services scheduled for Thursday due to the “situation on the ground”, with the route suspended until at least January 8. A return FlyDubai flight from Dubai to Kazakhstan’s capital, Nursultan, was due to operate, however.
The website for Air Arabia showed its return Sharjah-Almaty flights scheduled for Thursday as cancelled.