Kazakh protesters storm gov’t office in Almaty as crisis deepens | Protests News

Demonstrators have forced their way into a government building in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, as rare protests that began over a sharp rise in fuel prices extended into a fourth day.

Armed with clubs and metal bars, protesters stormed into the mayor’s office on Wednesday, according to local news website

An Instagram live stream by a Kazakh blogger showed a fire blazing at the office and gunshots could be heard nearby.

A crowd was seen gathering outside the building against a backdrop of stun grenade explosions, which were reportedly set off by security forces.

Demonstrators ride a truck during a protest triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022 [Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters]

More than 1,000 people were taking part in the demonstration, the AFP news agency reported, citing a correspondent at the scene.

More than 200 people have been arrested.

In an attempt to quell the crisis, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has blamed foreign “provocateurs” for the protests, sacked Kazakhstan’s government earlier on Wednesday and declared a state of emergency in Almaty and the surrounding province, with a curfew and movement restrictions.

A state of emergency was also later declared in Nur-Sultan.

But the moves appear to have done little to ease unrest.

Kazakhstan map

Dissent in the vast Central Asian nation, which is about the size of Western Europe, started rising over the weekend after price caps on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) were lifted.

Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG because of its low cost, but prices have more than doubled after the caps were raised.

Bruce Pannier, a Central Asia correspondent for Radio Free Europe and an expert on the region, told Al Jazeera that the recent demonstrations had “caught everyone by surprise”.

“As these protests tend to do, they started for economic reasons … but quickly took a political angle, where people started calling for free elections for local officials and the ouster of top officials,” he said.

“They’re working to get this under control as much as they can [but] it’s going to hurt the reputation of the Kazakh government.”

Damaged windows during protests triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, KazakhstaA man takes a photo of windows of a police kiosk damaged by demonstrators during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, January 5, 2022 [Vladimir Tretyakov/AP]

Tokayev has now ordered acting cabinet members and provincial governors to reinstate price controls on LPG, and broaden them to gasoline, diesel and other “socially important” consumer goods.

He also demanded the acting government to develop a personal bankruptcy law and consider freezing utility prices and subsidising rent payments for poor families.

Protests spread nationwide

Kazakhstan is a tightly controlled, former Soviet republic which cultivates an image of political stability, helping it attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries over 30 years of independence.

The protests started in the town of Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich western Mangystau region, beforespreading to several towns and cities, including the regional hub of Aktau on the country’s Caspian Sea coast, and a worker camp used by subcontractors of Kazakhstan’s biggest oil producer, Tengizchevroil

Atameken, Kazakhstan’s business lobby group, has reported attacks on banks, shops and restaurants.

In addition to Almaty, government buildings were attacked in the southern cities of Shymkent and Taraz overnight, with 95 police officers wounded in clashes.

Public protests are deemed illegal in Kazakhstan, whose parliament is devoid of opposition unless their organisers file a notice in advance.

Kazakh law enforcement officers during a protest triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, KazakhstanKazakh law enforcement officers block a street during a protest triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022 [Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters]

In addition to replacing Kazakhstan’s prime minister, Tokayev has appointed a new first deputy head of the National Security Committee who took over from Samat Abish, a nephew of powerful ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, 81, a Soviet-era Communist Party boss, ran Kazakhstan for almost 30 years before resigning abruptly in 2019 and backing Tokayev as successor.

Nazarbayev retains sweeping powers as the chairman of the security council; he has not convened the council or commented on this week’s violence.

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