The Internet has resumed in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, after a five-day blackout prompted by deadly unrest centered on the commercial center of 1.8 million people.
RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported that Internet service began to return early on January 10, with users able to access websites and messaging services again.
The Internet had been restricted and telecommunication services patchy, often making understanding the situation on the ground murky since nationwide protests erupted last week.
It was unclear whether Internet service had been permanently restored in Almaty. In the past few days, the Internet in other cities, including the capital Nur-Sultan, was only available for several hours a day.
On January 8, the government minister responsible for electronic communications said the Internet would return to cities “in stages” in order to ensure “attackers” allegedly behind the violence don’t misuse the service.
Millions of people have been impacted by Internet outages and disruptions, upending not only access to information and communication but also banking and payment services that left some people without cash to buy food.
In all, the Internet was blocked for 111 hours in Almaty, not counting around four hours when it was restored last week to allow President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev to announce the sacking of the government and a raft of security changes in the top echelons of the state.
Toqaev has sought to frame the violence in Almaty as an attack by "terrorist groups" and expressed anger at foreign and independent media coverage of the events, which killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more including members of the security forces.
The exact number of deaths as a result of what the authorities called "terrorist attacks" remains unknown. On January 9, a government-run Telegram channel reported the deaths of 164 people. Later that day, the Ministry of Health denied the report.
Kazakh authorities say they have detained nearly 6,000 people in security operations.
Kazakhstan, an oil-and-gas-rich country the size of Western Europe, was thrown into turmoil in the past week after protests over a fuel price hike in the remote western region of Mangystau spread across the country all the way to Almaty.
In Almaty, peaceful, apparently leaderless protests calling for reform in the tightly controlled authoritarian country soon erupted into a spasm of violence. Businesses were looted and public buildings torched and ransacked in the worst violence in the Central Asian state's 30 years of independence.
In the face of mounting unrest, Toqaev declared a state of emergency and on January 5 the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) quickly agreed to help provide security.
Leaders from the six-member CSTO made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia are scheduled to hold a videoconference on January 10 to discuss the situation.
Kazakh authorities also declared January 10 a day of mourning.