The Washington Post

The trouble in Kazakhstan

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Regarding the Jan. 10 news article “Kazakhstan officials say 164 are dead in protests, country now ‘stabilized’ ”:

Kazakhstan is facing political upheaval. Government buildings are being torched. The president is still standing (for now), but his cabinet has resigned. A state of emergency was declared, the Internet was shut down amid protests sparked by fuel prices, and 164 are now dead. These aren’t the actions of a well-functionin­g democracy.

Just weeks ago, the Biden-harris administra­tion released the firstever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. The same week, administra­tion officials met with members of Kazakhstan’s government at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C. to commemorat­e 30 years of diplomatic relations between the countries. Tellingly, one place Kazakhstan wasn’t represente­d was at the “Summit for Democracy” President Biden hosted.

Our leaders, in the administra­tion and in Congress, should take a closer look at this country’s relationsh­ip with Kazakhstan. Even before the recent chaos, foreign investors lived with the threat of forced nationaliz­ation. Reports of corruption in businesses were common, and the rule of law was arbitraril­y enforced. Are these actions consistent with the United States’ values? Is now the right time to consider rewarding Kazakhstan with permanent normal trade relations? Recent news indicates otherwise.

Ken Blackwell, Washington The writer is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Kazakhstan’s recent unpreceden­ted violence has had a traumatic impact on our people and threatened to undermine the basic functions of government. But the Jan. 10 article on Kazakhstan left readers with the impression that Kazakhstan’s government has been targeting peaceful protesters.

The demonstrat­ion against rising fuel prices started peacefully, and the government took no action to stop it. Moreover, authoritie­s immediatel­y reacted with concrete measures to address public concerns, capping the price of liquefied petroleum gas, gasoline, utilities and basic foodstuffs as well as engaging in a constructi­ve dialogue with the protesters.

However, the violence that swept the country in the days after forced us to respond. Our security forces have been engaging with violent mobs who were committing increasing­ly brazen acts of terrorism. According to the latest data, 18 law enforcemen­t officers were killed and 748 police officers were injured. About 1,000 private citizens were injured and up to 400 were hospitaliz­ed. More than 450 vehicles were burned, including police cars, ambulances and firetrucks. Businesses suffered: A total of 1,300 shops and trade facilities, cafes and restaurant­s were destroyed.

It is the right of every government to secure the country and its people. Though peaceful protests, including protests of government policy, are allowed, violence will not be tolerated. The government will respond forcefully but proportion­ally to restore the peace Kazakhs deserve.

Kazakhstan has repeatedly expressed its commitment to the rule of law. All actions taken or supported are and will be in accordance with our constituti­on, our laws and our internatio­nal commitment­s.

Yerzhan Ashikbayev, Washington The writer is Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the United States.

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