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Kazakh president gives shoot-to-kill order to quell protests

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(Last Updated On: January 7, 2022)

Security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of Kazakhstan‘s main city on Friday after days of violence, and the Russian-backed president said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a countrywide uprising.

A day after Moscow sent paratroopers to help crush the insurrection, police were patrolling the debris-strewn streets of Almaty, although some gunfire could still be heard.

Dozens have died and public buildings across Kazakhstan have been ransacked and torched in the worst violence the former Soviet republic has experienced in 30 years of independence.

Moscow said more than 70 planes were ferrying Russian troops into Kazakhstan, and that these were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, recaptured on Thursday from protesters.

The uprising has prompted a military intervention by Moscow at a time of high tension in East-West relations as Russia and the United States gear up for talks next week on the Ukraine crisis.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-trained terrorists for the unrest, without providing evidence.

“The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them,” Tokayev, 68, said in a televised address.

“Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed. I have given the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to shoot to kill, without warning.”

The demonstrations began as a response to a fuel price hike but swelled into a broad movement against the government and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, 81, was the longest-serving ruler of any ex-Soviet state until he turned over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019. His family is widely believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the situation with Tokayev in several phone calls during the crisis, the Kremlin said on Friday.

SCARED

The protesters in Almaty appear mainly to come from the city’s poor outskirts or surrounding towns and villages. The violence has come as a shock to urban Kazakhs, used to comparing their country favourably to more repressive and volatile ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbours.

“At night when we hear explosions, I am scared,” a woman named Kuralai told Reuters. “It hurts to know that young people are dying. This has clearly been planned … probably our government has relaxed somewhat.”

In a state where scant political opposition is tolerated, no high-profile leaders of the protest movement have emerged to issue any formal demands.

One man who attended the first night of protests and who did not want to be identified said most of those who initially turned up wanted to “express solidarity spontaneously”, before 100-200 “aggressive youths” started hurling rocks at police.

The Interior Ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated”, while 18 police and national guard members had been killed. Those figures appeared not to have been updated since Thursday.

State TV reported more than 3,800 arrests.

Fresh gunfire could be heard on Friday near the main square in Almaty, where troops had fought protesters on Thursday. Armoured personnel carriers and troops occupied the square.

TRAITORS

Pro-government politician Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, speaking on state television, suggested there were traitors within the ranks of Kazakhstan‘s security forces.

He said the security forces had been ordered to leave the Almaty airport before militants seized it, and that the National Security Committee building had been left undefended, allowing protesters to gain access to weapons.

Unrest has been reported in other cities, but the internet has been shut off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the extent of the violence.

In Aktau, a city on the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan, some 500 protesters gathered peacefully on Friday in front of a government building to call for Tokayev’s resignation, a witness told Reuters.

State television said more than 60 people, including civilians, police and military, had been injured in the southern city of Shymkent since the unrest began, adding that the situation there was calm on Friday.

RUSSIAN INFLUENCE

Moscow’s swift deployment demonstrated Putin’s readiness to use force to maintain influence in the former Soviet Union, at a time when he has also alarmed the West by massing troops near Ukraine, whose Crimean peninsula Russia seized in 2014.

The mission falls under the umbrella of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, comprising Russia and five ex-Soviet allies. Moscow said its force would number about 2,500.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was watching Russia’s troops for any “actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions”.

Tokayev’s administration said the Russians had not been engaged in combat or the “elimination of militants”.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, an exiled ex-banker and cabinet minister turned opponent of the government, told Reuters the West must counter Russia’s moves, or watch Putin “methodically impose his programme – the recreation of a structure like the Soviet Union”.

Kazakhstan‘s other major neighbour, China, has backed Tokayev. State television said President Xi Jinping had told him Beijing opposed any use of force to destabilise Kazakhstan.

Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard since the protests began. Tokayev removed Nazarbayev and his nephew from security posts on Wednesday.

Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s top miner of uranium. Global oil prices rose on Friday, fuelled by supply worries.

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U.N. chief calls on Burkina Faso coup leaders to lay down arms

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2022)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms” in Burkina Faso and calls on the coup leaders to lay down their weapons, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

Guterres also calls on the coup leaders “to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the president and of the institutions of Burkina Faso,” Dujarric said.

“Secretary-General is following developments in Burkina Faso with deep concern. He is particularly worried about the whereabouts and safety of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, as well as the worsening security situation, following the coup carried out on January 23 by sections of the armed forces. The Secretary-General strongly condemns any attempt to take over a government by the force of arms. He calls on the coup leaders to lay down their arms and to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the President and of the institutions of Burkina Faso. The Secretary-General calls on all actors to exercise restraint and opt for dialogue. The United Nations reiterates its full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order and reaffirms its support to the people of Burkina Faso in their efforts to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” said the spokesperson.

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also condemned the “coup attempt” in Burkina Faso, according to the statements they published respectively on Monday.

Burkina Faso‘s army announced Monday on state television that it had seized the state power, ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, suspended the Constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly, closed the borders, and imposed country-wide curfew from 21:00 on Monday.

The announcement, signed by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said that Kabore and others detained were in secure locations and no bloodshed or violence occurred during the takeover.

 

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EU ready for ‘never-seen-before’ sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 24, 2022)

The European Union is ready to impose “never-seen-before” economic sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Denmark said on Monday, and EU foreign ministers said they would send a unified warning to Moscow, Reuters reported.

East-West tensions have risen since Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s border, with Western countries fearing Moscow is preparing an invasion. Russia denies such plans.

Divergent interests in the 27-nation EU could hinder efforts to agree a joint position, and the EU is sidelined by direct Russia-U.S. talks, but ministers said it was essential to find unity.

“Knowing Russia’s tactics, I’m sure one of their aims is to splinter the West,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said as ministers gathered for regular talks in Brussels. “This is a victory we cannot afford to give to the Russians.”

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters: “There’s no doubt we are ready to react with comprehensive, never-seen-before sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again.”

He declined to say what sectors would be targeted.

“Russia should know, (President Vladimir) Putin should know that the price of using provocations and military forces to change borders in Europe will be very, very high… We are ready to undertake the most severe sanctions, also more severe than in 2014,” he said.

According to Reuters the EU, along with the United States, imposed economic sanctions on Moscow targeting its energy, banking and defence sectors after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

U.S. Senate Democrats have unveiled a bill to potentially punish Russian officials, military leaders and banking institutions. The EU says it is working with Washington on a sanctions package but has given no details.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged Europe and the United States to think carefully when considering sanctions, read the report.

Asked whether cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global messaging system should be an option, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Brussels the “hardest stick” may not always be the best way to deal with such a situation.

GAS DEPENDENCY

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said everything was on the table but also pointed to Austria’s dependency on Russia for 40% of its gas.

Asked about potential sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is yet to win regulatory approval, he said sanctioning something that is not yet operative was not a credible threat.

Blinken is expected to join the EU meeting online at around 1400 GMT.

The top U.S. and Russian diplomats made no major breakthrough at talks on Ukraine on Friday but agreed to keep talking.

“We are here to do everything we can so that war does not break out,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

For now, the EU does not plan to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after Washington announced such a move, Reuters reported.

The British Embassy in Ukraine said some of its staff and dependants were being withdrawn from Kyiv.

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First part of $200 million U.S. defence aid arrives in Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2022)

The first shipment of the United States’ $200 million security support package for Ukraine arrived in Kyiv, the U.S. Embassy said on Saturday, Reuters reported.

The delivery followed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv this week amid concerns from Kyiv and its Western allies over tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine. Russia denies planning a new military offensive.

Washington approved the $200 million package in December, Reuters reported.

“The United States will continue providing such assistance to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces in their ongoing effort to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression,” it said on Facebook.

Ukraine’s defence minister thanked the United States for the aid.

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