The president of Kazakhstan has said constitutional order has been “mainly restored” after the country was engulfed in unprecedented unrest in recent days.
Following deadly protests sparked by fuel price rises, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said: “An anti-terror operation has commenced. Law enforcement agencies are working hard. Constitutional order has been mainly restored in all regions of the country. Local authorities are in control of the situation.”
The president added, however, that “terrorists are still using weapons and are damaging people’s property”, and that “counter-terrorist actions” should be continued.
Kazakhstan is experiencing its worst street protests since the country gained independence three decades ago.
The demonstrations began over a near-doubling of prices for a type of vehicle fuel and quickly spread across the country, reflecting wider discontent over the rule of the same party since independence.
The protests have turned extremely violent, with government buildings set ablaze and more than a dozen law enforcement officers killed.
The internet has been shut down across the country, and two airports have been closed, including one in Almaty, the country’s largest city.
In a concession, the government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and a moratorium on utility rate increases.
Mr 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”.
In what was seen as one such measure, the president has called on a Russia-led military alliance for help.
The alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CTSO), includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and has started deploying troops to Kazakhstan on a peacekeeping mission.
Kazakh officials have insisted that the troops will not be fighting the demonstrators, and instead will take on guarding government institutions.
The interior ministry reported that 26 protesters had been killed during the unrest, 18 were wounded and more than 3,000 people have been detained.
A total of 18 law enforcement officers have been reported killed as well, and more than 700 sustained injuries.
Skirmishes in Almaty were still being reported on Friday morning. Russia’s state news agency Tass reported that the building occupied by the Kazakh branch of the Mir broadcaster, funded by several former Soviet states, was on fire.
However, the Almaty airport – stormed and seized earlier by the protesters – is back under the control of Kazakh law enforcement and CSTO peacekeepers, Russian defence ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said.
The airport will remain shut until Friday evening, local TV station Khabar 24 reported.
In other parts of the country some things started to go back to normal. In the capital, Nur-Sultan, access to the internet has been partially restored, and train traffic has been resumed across Kazakhstan.
The airport in the capital is operating as usual, Khabar 24 reported. According to the TV channel, airlines will resume domestic flights to the cities of Shymkent, Turkestan and Atyrau, as well as flights to Moscow and Dubai, starting from 3pm (9am GMT).
Mr Tokayev is expected to address the nation on Friday afternoon.