As the unrest in Kazakhstan starts to ease, the country will engage in busy reforms in the socioeconomic and political realms to address the concerns of the people while investigating the criminal acts and powers behind the recent incidents, the nation’s ambassador to Turkey, Abzal Saparbekuly, said.
“In the general sense, the situation in all cities is calm. The people of Kazakhstan have seen that these protests, which started in a peaceful manner, have exceeded the limits in Almaty,” Saparbekuly told Daily Sabah in an interview, indicating that widespread looting, attacks and storming of administrative buildings have taken place during the unrest.
Long seen as one the most stable of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan is facing its biggest crisis in decades after days of protests over rising fuel prices escalated into widespread unrest.
The focus of the protests in the oil and gas-rich former Soviet republic has been on Almaty, located in the southeast of the country, in recent days. Almaty is Kazakhstan's economic epicenter and biggest city.
Protesters stormed government buildings and fought running battles with police and the military, with officials saying 748 security officers were wounded and 18 killed. However, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Friday that constitutional order had been mainly restored.
Saparbekuly elaborated that this meant state institutions and police offices are now under state control and have been cleared of provocateurs and terrorists.
“We are face to face with coordinated and organized terrorists,” the envoy elaborated, saying that these figures have been using the country’s youth and attacking strategic points, which have now been taken under protection.
"Terrorist gangs" were engaged in a fight with paratroopers in Almaty, Tokayev said, adding that this is "not a threat, but an undermining of the integrity of the state."
The government currently has three main priorities, the first of which is to get armed individuals under control in Almaty, to detain the terrorists, interrogate them and understand where they came from and what their internal and foreign dynamics are, Saparbekuly said.
“Within this scope, special investigation teams (that) include the police and intelligence officers have been created and they have started their work. Offices of attorney generals have opened investigation files in regions where the incidents took place.”
He pointed to the urgency in determining by whom the incidents were organized and who were the provocateurs.
“This is the first time Kazakhstan experiences such a terrorist attack.”
Asked on the potential role of figures from the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the ambassador said it is early to make clear statements who or what kind of external and internal influence is behind these attacks.
“I believe that steps will be taken for the demands of the people that have sparked these events, besides the hike in gas prices,” he added, saying that though the country’s priority is security, reforms and efforts in the socioeconomic and political areas will also take place.
Saparbekuly indicated that in the scope of the global inflation increases in food, water, electricity and gas prices in Kazakhstan too have been part of the unrest.
"Now the prices of the basic services and products of the people will be under government control.”
The ambassador noted though that these reforms will not be starting with the latest events but rather when Tokayev took office.
Offering examples of the reforms, he pointed out that the election threshold for political parties has been decreased to 5% from 7%, while amendments were made in the political party laws. According to Saparbekuly, opposition parties that do not manage to get the minimum seats have the right to head commissions, while parties have to ensure a 30% participation of women as well as the participation of youth under the age of 30.
“The president ensured a 28% increase in the salaries of doctors, teachers and academicians, which will increase by 25% every year until 2025,” he elaborated.
Underlining that this is a gradual process, the envoy said that the government strives to eradicate income inequality.
Efforts to strengthen the private sector in the country and the fight against corruption are also ongoing, he added, saying that the government will work together with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) toward this aim and will continue efforts with the understanding of a "government that hears the voice of the people."
He also welcomed the statements of solidarity from Turkey and the Organization of Turkic States.
“What is important at this stage is that the international community understands the events in a healthy manner, that manipulations are avoided and that countries explain to their peoples the real face of the incidents.”
In terms of security, Kazakhstan’s forces are currently successfully managing the situation on their own, Saparbekuly said.
The Organization of Turkic States on Thursday expressed its solidarity with Kazakhstan and pledged to provide assistance if necessary.
The statement noted that member states were ready to support the people and government of Kazakhstan as needed while offering condolences for those who lost their lives.
Foreign ministers of the Organization of Turkic States will hold an extraordinary meeting via videoconference on Jan. 11 to evaluate recent developments in Kazakhstan.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also held talks with leaders of Organization of Turkic States members late Thursday, reiterating that Turkey is in solidarity with Kazakhstan in call with his counterpart Tokayev as protests hit the Central Asian nation.
Erdoğan told Tokayev that he is closely following the developments in Kazakhstan and extended his condolences to the Kazakh leader over casualties caused by the riots.
The president also underlined that Turkey believes Kazakhstan will overcome the current issues and that the Turkish government is ready to provide any assistance if needed.