Kazakhstan: Police detain antigovernment protesters as ruling party holds congress

ASTANA (TCA) — Police detained several protesters who demonstrated outside the headquarters of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ruling party in Kazakhstan’s two main cities, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.

Some of the dozens of protesters called for Nazarbayev’s resignation during the rallies on February 27 in front of the Nur-Otan party buildings in the capital, Astana — where he took part in a party congress — and Kazakhstan’s biggest city, Almaty.

Protesters accused the government of the energy-rich country, which Nazarbayev has ruled since before it gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, of ignoring the needs and demands of ordinary people and families.

Protests have been held across Kazakhstan in recent weeks following the deaths of five children from a single family in a house fire in Astana on February 4.

The predawn fire destroyed a tiny family home in Astana while both parents were away working overnight shifts, killing five girls aged 3 months to 13 years.

Also on February 27, police in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen detained two RFE/RL correspondents who were covering a protest by local residents who have been demonstrating since February 9.

One of the correspondents, Sania Toiken, said by telephone that police used force when they bundled her and cameraman Sanat Nurbek into a police car.

Toiken and Nurbek were brought to a police station and were being questioned in separate rooms, Toiken said. She said that police told them they had been detained on the basis of an unspecified complaint.

Local police declined to comment to RFE/RL on the detention of the two correspondents.

Nazarbayev, who is 78 and is expected to seek reelection in a vote next year, told the Nur-Otan party congress that he had ordered the equivalent of about $790 million to be earmarked for social assistance to low-income families.

He also said he ordered the government to allocate 980 billion tenge (about $2.6 billion) toward boosting public sector salaries in the next three years.

Sergey Kwan