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State of emergency in Kazakhstan amid protests over soaring gas prices

Kazakhstan’s president dismissed his government and declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in response to protests over rising gas prices. It …

State of emergency in Kazakhstan amid protests over soaring gas prices
05.01.2022 13:08
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Kazakhstan’s president dismissed his government and declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in response to protests over rising gas prices.

It comes after days of demonstrations that began in cities in the west and then spread through the sprawling Central Asian country.

The government had initially tried to calm protesters by conceding a reduction in the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), setting it at 50 tenge (€0.1) per litre, compared with 120 at the start of the year — a significant increase in a country where the minimum wage is 42,500 tenge (€98.7) a month.

But that strategy didn’t stop the protests. On Tuesday night police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse a large demonstration in the economic capital Almaty.

Protesters, some of whom attacked vehicles, chanted anti-government slogans such as “Government resign!” and “The old man out!” in reference to former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who, as the mentor of current leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, remains very influential.

The interior ministry reported that more than 200 protesters were arrested for “violations of public order” and 95 police officers were injured.

The protesters “indulged in provocations” by blocking roads and traffic and “disturbing public order”, the ministry said in a statement.

Protests continued on Wednesday with police firing stun grenades at protesters in Almaty.

State Of Emergency In Kazakhstan Amid Protests Over Soaring Gas Prices
A man takes a photo of windows of a police kiosk damaged by demonstrators during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.

‘We don’t need conflict’

Following the government’s dismissal, Deputy prime minister Alikhan Smailov will assume the role of interim prime minister until a new cabinet is formed.

A state of emergency has also been declared until 19 January in the regions of Mangystau, where the protests started, and Almaty, where a night-time curfew will be in force.

A few hours earlier, Tokayev had released a video on Facebook, calling for calm, stressing “we don’t need conflict” and warning protesters against any “provocation”.

State Of Emergency In Kazakhstan Amid Protests Over Soaring Gas Prices
Riot police officers hold their weapons ready as they try to stop demonstrators during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022

Independent media down

The popular messaging services WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal were unavailable in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, while the websites of two independent media outlets appeared to be blocked.

Television also reported on Wednesday the arrest of the director of a gas processing plant and another official in the Mangystau region, where Janaozen is located.

They are accused of having “increased the price of gas without reason”, which has “led to massive protests throughout the country”, according to the outlet.

Khazakstan, Central Asia’s largest economy and once accustomed to double-digit growth rates, is suffering from falling oil prices and the economic crisis in Russia, which has led to the devaluation of the Kazakh tenge and high inflation.

The Mangystau region relies on LNG as its main source of fuel for cars and any increase in its price leads to an increase in food prices, which have already risen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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