Kazakhstan: Demonstrators storm Almaty mayor’s office as protests intensify

ALMATY — Protesters and police have clashed in several of Kazakhstan’s main cities as demonstrations intensify in the Central Asian country following a steep rise in fuel prices. In Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, hundreds of protesters, some of whom were armed with rubber truncheons, stormed the mayor’s office on January 5 amid volleys of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets from police, with reports of a fire breaking out in the building, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has dismissed the government and declared a state of emergency in parts of Kazakhstan — including Almaty and the capital, Nur-Sultan — in a bid to head off the wave of protests, which erupted in the western region of Mangystau three days ago over a sudden hike in prices for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a popular fuel used in vehicles in the oil-rich country.

The demonstrations then spread across the country, with demonstrators voicing support for the protesters in Mangystau and discontent over issues such as corruption, unemployment, and low wages.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 200 people were detained during protests “in a number of regions of the country,” but observers say that number appears to be underestimated. The ministry also said that at least 95 officers have been injured in the clashes.

Violence was also reported in the northern city of Aqtobe, where police fired tear gas on protesters who tried to enter the regional government building by force.

Protests also continued in other cities and towns across Kazakhstan, including Aqtau, Zhanaozen, and Oral, as Internet connections were disrupted or cut off in many parts of the country in an attempt by authorities to limit the ability of demonstrators to mobilize.

A decree order published on the presidential website on the morning of January 5 said Tokayev had accepted the resignation of the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Askar Mamin, in line with the constitution.

First Deputy Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov was appointed as interim prime minister, and current members of the government will continue their duties until a new cabinet is formed, according to the order.

Earlier, Tokayev imposed states of emergency in the Almaty and Mangystau regions through January 19 after protests gathered steam. An overnight curfew will be in place in both regions, with restrictions on movement in and out of the cities falling under the decrees.

Before its resignation, the government announced it was restoring the price cap of 50 tenge ($0.11) per liter of gas, or less than half the market price, in Mangystau.

Demonstrators in Aqtau and Zhanaozen argued that that the removal of some officials wouldn’t bring lasting results, and called for the dissolution of parliament, where no genuine opposition political forces are represented, and new limits to presidential powers, among other things.

In addition to replacing the prime minister, Tokayev appointed a new first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB) to replace Samat Abish, a nephew of powerful former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, 81, ruled the country with an iron fist from its independence in 1991 until 2019, when he abruptly resigned as president and picked Tokayev as his successor.

However, he continues to control social, economic, and political spheres by leading the influential Security Council and enjoying limitless powers as elbasy — the leader of the nation.

Chants of “shal ket!” (“old man go!”), usually understood as a reference to Nazarbayev, were repeated by the protesters in Almaty on January 4.