Kazakh leader vows to restore city hit by fatal clashes; Russian-led troops to leave

President Tokayev says ‘organized withdrawal of the peacekeeping contingent’ set to begin Thursday; dozens killed in unrest over energy price hike

The building of Kazakhstan's ruling party The Nur Otan is seen with damage after clashes in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 11, 2022. (AP Photo)
The building of Kazakhstan's ruling party The Nur Otan is seen with damage after clashes in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 11, 2022. (AP Photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited Almaty on Wednesday for the first time since clashes there left dozens dead, vowing to repair damage to oil-rich Kazakhstan’s largest city and financial hub.

“The task now is to rebuild the city in the shortest possible time,” he told a government meeting, according to a statement released by his office. “I have no doubt the city will be restored.”

The visit came on the eve of the start of the announced withdrawal of a Russia-led military contingent of more than 2,000 troops that were sent to help restore order after peaceful protests gave way to violence and looting last week.

Dozens have died in the unrest that began with peaceful protests over an energy price hike. Hundreds of people were injured and police said they arrested more than 10,000 people.

“Tomorrow begins the organized withdrawal of the peacekeeping contingent” of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the alliance led by Moscow, said Tokayev.

Almaty showed further signs of a return to normal life Wednesday, with many more people out on the streets than last week and most restaurants and shops open.

In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan’s Presidential Press Service, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, center, speaks to one of the wounded during the unrest as he visit the Traumatology Department of the hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 12, 2022. (Kazakhstan’s Presidential Press Service via AP)

AFP correspondents saw helicopters flying overhead as Tokayev met officials in the city where municipal services were cleaning up broken glass from shop windows smashed by looters.

Tokayev said Russian and allied forces “played a very important role in terms of stabilizing the situation in the country.”

“Without a doubt, it was of great psychological importance in repelling the aggression of terrorists and bandits. The mission can be considered very successful,” he added.

In a meeting with CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas, Tokayev said the mission had “once again confirmed the value of the organization itself as a military-political structure” while raising its international status.

“The effectiveness of the organization has manifested itself quite clearly in this situation.”

Zas was quoted by Tokayev’s office as briefing the meeting “on the beginning of the withdrawal from our country of the contingents of the member states of the organization within the timeframe indicated by the head of Kazakhstan.”

In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization guard an area in Kazakhstan, January 12, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Tokayev also spoke with relatives of law enforcement personnel killed in the riots and visited injured people in hospital.

Almaty airport, closed since last week after being ransacked, is due to resume service Thursday for national and international flights, according to the Kazakhstan Civil Aviation Committee.

While authorities have described the violence as the work of foreign “terrorists,” it erupted on the back of peaceful demonstrations over a rise in fuel prices and against a background of deteriorating living standards and endemic corruption.

The crisis also exposed rifts at the top of the national leadership, with Tokayev on Tuesday signaling a split with mentor and predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who ruled Kazakhstan for a quarter-century but has not been seen in public since the end of last year.

Karim Masimov, a top Nazarbayev ally, who prior to the crisis served as national security chief, has been arrested on treason charges linked to the unrest.

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