Dozens of protesters, 12 police dead in Kazakhstan protests

  • Riot police walk to block demonstrators during a protest Wednesday in Almaty, Kazakhstan. (AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov)

MOSCOW — Security forces in Kazakhstan killed dozens of protesters and 12 police officers died in an eruption of violence that saw demonstrators storm government buildings and set them on fire, authorities said Thursday.

One police officer was found beheaded in the unrest, which poses a growing challenge to authoritarian rule in the former Soviet republic.

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Despite the severe response by authorities, protesters took to the streets again Thursday in the country’s largest city, Almaty, a day after breaking into the presidential residence and the mayor’s office there.

Police were also out in force, including in the capital of Nur-Sultan, which was reported quiet, and a Russian-led force of peacekeeping troops was on its way.

Video from the Russian news agency Tass showed police firing intensely on a street near Republic Square, where demonstrators had gathered, though they could not be seen in the footage. Late Thursday, Tass said protesters had been swept from the square but that sporadic gunfire in the area continued.

Earlier, Russia’s Sputnik news service reported that shots were fired as police surrounded a group of about 200 protesters in the city.

In the unrest on Wednesday, “dozens of attackers were liquidated,” police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek told state news channel Khabar-24. Twelve police officers were killed and 353 injured, the channel reported, citing city officials.

The Interior Ministry said 2,000 people were arrested.

Tens of thousands of people, some reported to be carrying clubs and shields, have taken to the streets in recent days in the worst protests the country has seen since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago.

The demonstrations began over a near-doubling of prices for a type of vehicle fuel, but seemed to reflect wider discontent in the country, which has been under the rule of the same party since independence.

In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases.

It was unclear what effect the moves would have.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has vacillated between trying to mollify the protesters, including accepting the resignation of his government, and promising harsh measures to quell the unrest, which he blamed on “terrorist bands.”

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