Kazakhstan activists recall path from protest to bloodshed

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) – The mass protests in Kazakhstan began peacefully over the New Year’s weekend, with marchers denouncing a sharp rise in fuel prices. They spread quickly from the western part of the Central Asian nation to more populous areas, eventually reaching its largest city of Almaty.

But something changed over the course of a week.

Groups of armed men appeared in Almaty, with some seen riding in cars without license plates or with their faces covered. Marchers at the peaceful protests say these men began urging them to storm government buildings, promising to give them guns.

Clashes with police soon broke out, and by the night of Jan. 5, Almaty was in chaos. City Hall was burning, as were cars and buses; stores were looted; and attempts were made to storm the presidential residence. Gunshots were heard in the streets, the internet was blacked out, and even the airport was briefly seized.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on “terrorists” who received foreign training and support.

But nearly two weeks after the events that led to scores of deaths and about 16,000 arrests, the government has not presented any evidence to support its allegation of outside involvement.

It remains unclear whether these more violent actors were individuals taking advantage of the mayhem to loot and vandalize stores, or if they were part of organized groups with larger political motives.

Protesters, however, say their rallies were somehow undermined, leading to the crackdown by security forces. Tokayev has said authorities didn’t use force at peaceful demonstrations.

Although the protests began over the higher price of fuel, the scope and the agenda of the demonstrations expanded quickly. Large crowds rallied in major cities, venting their frustration with worsening living conditions and inequality under the authoritarian government that has maintained a tight grip on power for over three decades in the energy-rich nation of 19 million.

Much of that occurred under longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 in favor of Tokayev, his hand-picked successor, but has maintained behind-the-scenes influence. The slogan “Shal ket!” – “Old man go!” – was chanted at rallies.

“A significant part of the people are those who came at the call of their hearts to express their attitude towards the authorities, because they are tired, because they do not feel like the state is providing them with social security,” said human rights activist Galym Ageleuov, president of the Liberty Foundation.

Tokayev initially tried to calm the crowds by announcing a 180-day cap on fuel… Nokia News – Short Summary.

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