MOSCOW (AP) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced Tuesday that a Russian-led security alliance will begin withdrawing its troops from the country within two days of completing its mission.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of six former Soviet nations, deployed its mostly Russian soldiers to Kazakhstan last week at the president’s request amid the worst public unrest in the country since which became independent from the defunct Soviet Union 30 years ago.
Protests over the sharp rise in fuel prices began in the west of the oil and gas-rich Central Asian nation on January 2 and soon spread across the country, with political slogans reflecting broader discontent with its authoritarian government. In the following days, the demonstrations turned extremely violent, with dozens of civilians and officers killed.
In Almaty, the former capital and the country’s largest city, protesters set fire to government buildings and briefly seized the airport. By the weekend, the riots had almost completely subsided.
Tokayev has blamed the situation on foreign-supported “terrorists” and insisted that his request to the CSTO was justified.
“When this decision was made, we could have completely lost control over Almaty, which was being ravaged by terrorists. If we had lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and the entire country, “Tokayev told the Kazakh parliament on Tuesday.
According to the president, the CSTO has mostly fulfilled its mission in the country and will begin to withdraw its troops in two days, in a process that will not last for more than 10 days.
Tokayev appointed a new prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, also on Tuesday. The Kazakh government resigned in full last week in what was seen as one of several concessions aimed at quelling the protests, in addition to capping fuel prices for 180 days and the departure of Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former leader, from his influential position at the head of the National Security Council.
Life in Almaty, which was the city hardest hit by the violence, began to return to normal this week with the resumption of public transport and the reopening of shopping centers.
A total of 9,900 people were detained across the country in the wake of the unrest, the Interior Ministry explained on Tuesday.