State of emergency declared in Kazakh capital as protests escalate

Protesters in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, have stormed the presidential residence and mayor's office and set both buildings on fire, according to news reports, as demonstrations sparked by a rise in LPG prices in the Central Asian nation escalated sharply.

Key words:

  • Protests in Kazakhstan began over a near-doubling of LPG prices
  • Discontent over poor living conditions is strong in some parts of the country
  • The government resigned in response to the unrest

Police fired on some protesters at the presidential palace before fleeing. They have clashed repeatedly with demonstrators in recent days, deploying water cannons in the freezing weather, tear gas and concussion grenades.

The government has resigned in response to the unrest and the President vowed to take harsh measures to quell the unrest.

In possibly the first of those efforts, Kazakh news sites became inaccessible late in the day, and the global watchdog organisation Netblocks said the country was experiencing a pervasive internet blackout.

Although the protests began over a near-doubling of prices for LPG — which is widely used as vehicle fuel — the size and rapid spread of the unrest suggests the demonstrations reflect a wider discontent in the country that has been under the rule of the same party since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many of the demonstrators who converged on the mayoral office carried clubs and shields.(AP: Vladimir Tretyakov )

Kazakhstan, the ninth-largest country in the world, borders Russia to the north and China to the east and has extensive oil reserves that make it strategically and economically important.

Despite those reserves and mineral wealth, discontent over poor living conditions is strong in some parts of the country.

Many Kazakhs also chafe at the dominance of the ruling party, which holds more than 80 per cent of the seats in parliament.

Hours after thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the presidential residence in Almaty, Russia's Tass news agency reported that the building was on fire and that demonstrators, some wielding firearms, were trying to break into it.

Police fled from the residence after shooting at demonstrators, according to the report, which was filed from Kazakhstan.

Many of the demonstrators who converged on the mayoral office carried clubs and shields, according to earlier reports in Kazakh media.

Tass later said the building was engulfed in flames.

The city hall building  in Almaty, Kazakhstan was set alight after protesters broke in.(AP: Yan Blagov )

Protesters also broke into the Almaty office of the Russia-based Mir television and radio company and destroyed some equipment, the broadcaster said. It later reported that a crowd broke into the Almaty building of the Kazakh national broadcaster.

The protests began Sunday in Zhanaozen, a city in the west where resentment of the government was strong after a 2011 oil-worker strike where police fatally shot at least 15 people.

They spread across the country in the following days and, on Tuesday, large demonstrations broke out in the capital, Nur-Sultan, and in Almaty, the country's largest city and its former capital.

The protests appear to have no identifiable leader or demands.

In a televised statement to the nation on Wednesday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said: "We intend to act with maximum severity regarding law-breakers."

Mr Tokayev said police have also died in clashes with demonstrators, but there were no immediate casualty figures for police or civilians.

In the statement, he also promised to make political reforms and announced that he was assuming the leadership of the national security council.

The latter is potentially significant because the council had been headed by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president from 1991 until he resigned in 2019.

Mr Nazarbayev dominated Kazakhstan's politics and his rule was marked by a moderate cult of personality.

Critics say he effectively instituted a clan system in government.

After the demonstrations spread to Almaty and the capital, the government announced its resignation, but Mr Tokayev said the ministers would remain in their roles until a new cabinet was formed, making it uncertain whether the resignation would have significant effect.

Mr Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency for both the capital and Almaty, imposing an overnight curfew and restricting movement into and around the cities.

At the start of the year, prices for LPG roughly doubled as the government moved away from price controls as part of efforts to transition to a market economy.



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