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Kazakhs commemorate victims of bloody unrest

Protesters also demanded the release of hundreds of citizens jailed during the violence



Reuters file
Reuters file

By AFP

Published: Sun 13 Feb 2022, 5:46 PM

Hundreds rallied in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, on Sunday to commemorate victims of deadly clashes last month, defying an official ban on the demonstration.

Central Asia’s richest country descended into violence in early January when peaceful protests over a gas price hike unravelled into bloody clashes and looting.

More than 200 died and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called in troops from a Russia-led security bloc to re-establish control.

On Sunday, demonstrators gathered in Almaty’s Republic Square to pray for those who died in the bloodshed.

They called for the resignation of Tokayev, who claimed the riots were the work of hired bandits and “terrorists” with international links, despite signs of a leadership struggle.

Protesters also demanded the release of hundreds of citizens jailed during the violence on charges including terrorism and fomenting unrest, and to an end to torture in the country’s jails.

Some also called for the arrest of Tokayev’s long-ruling predecessor and mentor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Pensioner Aiman Ispolova, part of a group of women singing patriotic songs and laying flowers at the square, said she had come to demand justice for her son’s friend, who was shot on January 6 while driving through the city.

“He was 28. His parents are 60 years old. He was their provider. His mother is in deep mourning. She cannot leave her bed. And where is Tokayev, who gave the shoot-to-kill order?”

Gulshara Belgibayeva, a 57-year-old postal worker, said she was seeking the release from jail of a young man who was shot during the violence and later arrested.

Riot police had forcibly transferred him from hospital to a jail cell, Belgibayeva said.

Police did not immediately move to break up the demonstration, as often happens in Kazakhstan, which imposes strong restrictions on freedom of assembly.

The foreign ministry this month pledged that “all complaints of illegal detention and possible ill-treatment of detainees will be thoroughly investigated”.

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Tokayev has refused calls for international help to investigate the riots, which added to ongoing rumours of strains in the relationship with the Nazerbayev clan.

The 81-year-old autocrat handpicked Tokayev to replace him in 2019 after nearly three decades in power but he retained influence behind the scenes. In January, he and his powerful family were sidelined, amid rumours of strains in the relationship with his protege.

Karim Masimov, a long-time Nazarbayev ally who served as security chief when the unrest began, has been arrested on charges of plotting a coup.


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