A Russia-led military alliance said Thursday that it will dispatch peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan after the country's president asked for help in controlling protests that escalated into violence, the AP reports. Protesters in Kazakhstan's largest city stormed the presidential residence and the mayor's office Wednesday and set both on fire, according to news reports, as demonstrations sparked by a rise in fuel prices escalated sharply in the Central Asian nation. Police reportedly fired on protesters at the residence in Almaty. They have clashed repeatedly with demonstrators in recent days, deploying water cannons in the freezing weather and firing tear gas and concussion grenades.
The Kazakh Interior Ministry said eight police officers and national guard members were killed in the unrest and more than 300 were injured. No figures on civilian casualties were released. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-based alliance of six former Soviet countries, for assistance. Hours later, the CSTO's council approved sending an unspecified number of peacekeepers, said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the council's chairman. Tokayev earlier vowed to take harsh measures to quell the unrest and declared a two-week state of emergency for the whole country.
The government resigned over the unrest. Kazakh news sites became inaccessible late in the day, and the global watchdog organization Netblocks said the country was experiencing a pervasive internet blackout. The Russian news agency Tass reported that internet access was restored in Almaty by early Thursday. Although the protests began over a near-doubling of prices for a type of liquefied petroleum gas that is widely used as vehicle fuel, their size and rapid spread suggested they reflect wider discontent in the country that has been ruled by the same party since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The protests appear to have no identifiable leader or demands.
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