Violence in Kazakhstan after Russia sends troops

Fresh violence raged on in Kazakhstan on Thursday (January 6), with police in the main city Almaty saying they had killed dozens of rioters overnight.

The interior ministry said at least 18 law enforcement officers had died so far in clashes, including two found decapitated.

And more than two thousand protesters were detained as Russia rushed in paratroopers to stop a countrywide uprising in the former Soviet state, as Western countries called for calm.

Footage from Almaty showed toppled vehicles and buildings - said to be a presidential residence and the mayor's office - ablaze.

Reuters reporters heard explosions and gunfire as military vehicles and scores of soldiers advanced.

Internet access was also shut down across Kazakhstan.

And while the full extent of the unrest was not immediately clear, it was unprecedented in a country ruled firmly since Soviet times by leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

He has held on to power despite stepping down three years ago as president.

The uprising originally began against a fuel price hike on New Year's Day.

But a reversal of the price rise failed to mollify crowds who accuse Nazarbayev's family and allies of amassing vast wealth from oil and minerals while the nation of 19 million remained poor.

On Wednesday, (January 5) when protesters stormed and torched public buildings in different cities, they chanted slogans against Nazarbayev, and in at least one city looped ropes around a statue of him, trying to pull it down.

Nazarbayev's hand-picked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called in forces from ally Russia overnight as part of a military alliance of ex-Soviet states, led by Moscow.

He blamed the unrest on foreign-trained terrorists who he said had seized buildings and weapons.

The swift arrival of Russian troops demonstrated the Kremlin's strategy of deploying force to safeguard its influence in the ex-Soviet Union.

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