Russian-led forces have arrived in Kazakhstan at the request of the country’s authoritarian president, amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
Officials have reported deaths of police and protesters after days of unrest sparked by a fuel price hike, reports the BBC.
A BBC journalist in the largest city Almaty shared video of heavy gunfire overnight on Thursday.
The UN, US, UK, and France have called on all sides to refrain from violence.
In a Friday morning update, the Kazakh interior ministry said 26 protesters – who they described as “armed criminals” – had been killed and more than 3,000 others detained by the authorities. Some 18 members of the security forces have died and 748 others have been injured in the violence, it said.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is expected to address the nation on Friday, according to state television.
The president has blamed foreign-trained “terrorists” for the unrest, without giving evidence. On Wednesday he appealed to the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for support. The bloc includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan and Armenia.
The overseas force sent to Kazakhstan reportedly numbers about 2,500 soldiers. The CSTO says the troops are a peacekeeping force and will protect state and military installations. They will stay in the country for several days or weeks, the Russian RIA news agency reports.
The US State Department has said it is closely monitoring the deployment of Russian troops. “The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violation of human rights,” a spokesman said.
“We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.”
The unrest began on Sunday when the cost of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – which many people in Kazakhstan use to fuel their cars – doubled, drawing protesters onto the streets.
The government has said that fuel price caps will be restored for six months. But the announcement has failed to end the protests, which have broadened to include other political grievances.
Kazakhstan is often described as authoritarian, and most elections are won by the ruling party with nearly 100% of the vote. There is no effective political opposition.
The bloodshed comes after President Tokayev sacked his cabinet on Wednesday in a bid to head off the demonstrations. He also fired his powerful predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had held a national security role since stepping down as president.