Kazakhstan declares state of emergency as protests over fuel prices spread

MOSCOW – The President of Kazakhstan declared a two-week state of emergency in two regions of the Central Asian country early Wednesday morning after nationwide protests erupted against rising fuel prices.

In Almaty, the country’s largest city, police fired tear gas and stun grenades at thousands of people who had refused to disperse, as protesters set police cars on fire, according to news services.

The protests, which began on Sunday, represent a rare manifestation of dissent in Kazakhstan, an authoritarian, oil-rich Central Asian country.

“Dear compatriots, I urge you to exercise caution and not succumb to provocations from within and without, to the euphoria of gatherings and permissiveness,” President Kassym-Jomart said on Tuesday evening. Tokayev in a video address. “Calls to attack civilian and military offices are completely illegal. It is a crime that comes with a punishment.

The state of emergency includes a curfew from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. movement restrictions, including entering and leaving the city of Almaty; and a ban on mass gatherings, according to a document posted on the president’s website. Public demonstrations without a permit are illegal.

Early Wednesday morning, the Russian Tass news agency reported that Tokayev was about to announce the resignation of the Kazakh government, but this claim could not be independently verified. Tokayev has no political opposition in Parliament.

The state of emergency came after days of growing protests over rising prices for liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, a low-carbon fuel that many Kazakhs use to power their cars. The government argued that the price caps were financially unsustainable and lifted them effective January 1. The shift to the free market has essentially doubled the cost of fuel overnight.

Protests began on Sunday in the southwestern oil town of Zhanozen, the same spot where 16 striking oil workers were killed in 2011 by police after demanding better working conditions. (Human rights experts estimate that the number of victims could be several times higher.)

In Aktau, the capital of the resource-rich Mangystau region, 16,000 people demonstrated on Tuesday, according to Russian news agency Interfax, while 10,000 gathered in Zhanozen.

In his speech, Tokayev said the government would cap the price of LPG again at 50 tenge ($ 0.11) per liter, less than half of the current market price. But he also said that no dissent would be tolerated, urging young people “not to spoil their way in life” and “not to poison the lives of those close to them”.

Mobile internet access was down and messaging apps including WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram were blocked.

Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, larger than all of Western Europe, with a population of around 19 million. Its gross domestic product per capita in 2020 was just over $ 9,000, according to the World Bank.

Tokayev, who became president in 2019, is widely seen as the hand-picked successor of Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former Communist Party boss who has ruled Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union. Nazarbayev, 81, still holds enormous power, bearing the title of “head of the nation” and chairing the country’s Security Council.

On Tuesday, it was evident that protesters had gone beyond fuel prices to demand Nazarbayev’s removal from public life. In Aktau, the demonstrators shouted “Old man out! “

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