U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev's “shoot to kill” order and said Washington was seeking clarification on why the Central Asian nation needed to call in a Russian-led security force amid domestic unrest.
"The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded," Blinken said in an ABC-TV interview on January 9.
Cities throughout Kazakhstan have been struck by protests that initially erupted in the western region of Mangystau on January 2 over the doubling in the price of subsidized liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
The protests have spread and morphed into calls for political reform in the tightly controlled country.
Mobs stormed government buildings, setting some of them on fire, looted businesses, and torched and overturned cars as they called for reforms after decades of stifling rule in the oil-rich former Soviet republic.
In response, Toqaev declared a nationwide state of emergency until January 19, with curfews, restrictions on movements, and bans on mass gatherings.
Toqaev gave permission for security forces to "shoot to kill" demonstrators, whom he described as “bandits” and “terrorists,” labels protesters have dismissed.
Kazakhstan also requested help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia.
Russia has sent a few thousand troops to Kazakhstan under CSTO auspices.
"We have real questions about why they felt compelled to call this organization that Russia dominates," Blinken told CNN. "We're asking for clarification on that."
In earlier comments, Blinken said Kazakh authorities “certainly have the capacity to deal appropriately with protests” in a way that respects the rights of protesters while maintaining law and order.