Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has fired his cabinet and declared a state of emergency in the country’s largest city and an oil-rich western region following mass protests sparked by increase in fuel prices.

Tokayev said on Wednesday morning that he had accepted the resignation of the cabinet led by Prime Minister Askar Mamin, and ordered the acting cabinet to reinstate price controls on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

He also ordered the acting cabinet to extend price controls to petrol, diesel and other “socially important” consumer goods.

The moves followed clashes in Almaty overnight between police and thousands of protesters calling for the government to resign.

Some of them shouted “old man out” – a reference to Tokayev’s still powerful predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev – while others attacked vehicles. Police used tear gas and shock grenades to prevent a crowd of protesters storming the mayor’s office.

In an effort to quell the unrest, Tokayev declared a state of emergency in Almaty as well as Mangistau province early Wednesday.

The decrees, he said, would last two weeks and include a 23:00 (17:00 GMT) to 7:00 (01:00 GMT) evening clock rule, movement restrictions and a ban on mass gatherings.

“Calls to attack government and military offices are absolutely illegal,” Tokayev said in a video address earlier Tuesday. “The government will not fall, but we want mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict.”

Messenger applications Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp were not all available in the Central Asian country, while two independent media sites reporting on the protests were apparently blocked.

Protesters attend rally in Almaty on January 4, 2022, following energy price hikesProtesters attend rally in Almaty on January 4, 2022, following a rise in energy prices [Abduaziz Madyarov/ AFP]

The protests broke out on January 2 in the village of Zhanazoen in the western Mangistau region, a day after the government lifted restrictions on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) prices.

Mangistau is dependent on the relatively cheap VPG as the main fuel for cars and the AFP news agency said any jump in prices would have affected the price of food, which has seen sharp rises since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests quickly spread to other parts of Mangistau and western Kazakhstan, including the provincial center, Aktau, and further to Almaty and the national capital, Nur-sultan.

Tokayev returns

As tensions escalated, Tokayev tweeted late Tuesday that authorities had taken a decision to lower VPG prices in Mangistau “to ensure stability in the country”.

The move restored the price limit of 50 Kazakh tenge ($ 0.11) per liter, or less than half the market price, in the western province.

But reports by independent media suggested that the announcement did not succeed in weakening the protests in Zhanaozen and Aktau. Aktau footage shared on social media on Tuesday night shows thousands of protesters camping in the city center overnight, surrounded by police.

Arrests of activists and small spontaneous marches were also reported in Nur-Sultan, named in honor of founding leader Nazarbayev.

Tokayev said on Wednesday morning that emergency decisions had improved the situation in cities and towns affected by protests.

The country’s Interior Ministry, meanwhile, said more than 200 people had been detained across the country for attacking government buildings.

95 police officers are said to have been wounded but did not give any figures on injuries among protesters.

Public protests are illegal in the country of 19 million unless their organizers submit a prior notice, and Bruce Pannier, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe, told Al Jazeera that the protests “surprised everyone, especially that it was so fast. has spread “.

“They started for economic reasons, the doubling in gas prices, but they quickly took a political corner with people who demanded free elections of local officials, and called for the expulsion of top officials, the government, he said.

The protests will hurt the reputation of the Kazakh government, which has always been a “fairly stable” country, and other Central Asian leaders will look for regional implications, Pannier said.

“The fact that Kazakhstan is a stable country in Central Asia, which has had problems in some of the countries in the past, is going to have ripple effects.

“And I imagine that all the governments in those countries are going to look very closely at what is happening, for no other reason than to make sure that they do not make the kind of mistakes that the Kazakh authorities made by allowing this situation to come out. not. hand as it did today. ”

Tokayev, who no political opposition faces in parliament, took office in 2019.

He was hand-picked as a successor by Nazarbayev, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But Nazarbayev, 81, who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, retains control of the country as chairman of the Security Council and “Leader of the Nation” – a constitutional role that gives him unique policy-making privileges as well as immunity from prosecution.

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