Fuel-price demonstrations in Kazakhstan turn violent

Riots break out in Kazakhstan over soaring gas prices as angry mobs pelt government armoured vehicles and set police cars alight and the army is sent in to restore order

  • Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency in several locations
  • The Kazakh President’s order came following violent protests over energy prices
  • The order includes an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew and movement restrictions
  • Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to quell unrest that began in the west of the country over a spike in local prices for Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency in the Central Asian nation’s biggest city Almaty and in the western Mangistau province where protests over rising energy prices turned violent, his office said today.

The move includes an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, movement restrictions, and a ban on mass gatherings, according to documents published on the president’s website.

‘Calls to attack government and military offices are absolutely illegal,’ Tokayev said in a video address a few hours earlier. 

‘The government will not fall, but we want mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict.’

The southeastern city of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital, was in chaos from late on Tuesday as police fired tear gas and stun grenades to quell unrest that began in the west of the country over a spike in local prices for Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). 

The oil-rich country’s government announced late on Tuesday it was restoring some price caps on LPG, after the rare protests reached Almaty following a sharp rise in the price of the fuel at the start of the year.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency in the Central Asian nation’s biggest city Almaty and in the western Mangistau province where protests turned violent, his office said early on Wednesday.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades in a bid to break up an unprecedented thousands-strong march in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, after protests that began over fuel prices threatened to spiral out of control

A police car was set on fire on fire during clashes between protesters and law enforcement in the centre of Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022

Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG, which is far cheaper than gasoline as a vehicle fuel in Kazakhstan because of price caps. But the government argued that the low price was unsustainable and lifted the caps on Jan. 1. 

After the price of the fuel spiked, rallies involving thousands of people erupted on Jan. 2 in the town of Zhanaozen.

Zhanaozen was the scene of the deadliest unrest since the republic gained independence in 1991, when at least 14 striking oil workers were killed in 2011 as police crushed a protest over pay and working conditions. 

Demonstrations spread to other parts of surrounding Mangistau province and western Kazakhstan, including provincial centre Aktau and a worker camp used by sub-contractors of Kazakhstan’s biggest oil producer, Tengizchevroil. 

The Chevron-led venture said output had not been affected.

Messenger apps Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp were all unavailable in the Central Asian country on Wednesday, while two independent media websites that reported on the protests appeared to have been blocked.

Smaller protests had been staged in cities across the republic of 19 million people from Sunday.

Demonstrators try to block a police bus during a protest in the centre of Almaty, Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

A view shows a burning police car during a protest against LPG cost rise following the Kazakh authorities’ decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022

In Almaty, police appeared to have taken control of the main square shortly after deploying flashbang grenades, according to online video streams from the area. But explosions were heard for hours on nearby streets and in other parts of the city.

Videos published online showed torched police cars in the city, as well as armoured vehicles moving through one of its main thoroughfares.

On Tuesday evening, the government announced it was restoring the price cap of 50 tenge (11 cents) per litre, or less than half the market price, in Mangistau province.

Public protests are illegal in the country of 19 million unless their organisers file a notice in advance.

Tokayev, the hand-picked successor of Soviet-era Communist boss Nursultan Nazarbayev who stepped down in 2019, faces no political opposition in parliament.

The president said on Twitter on Tuesday that he would hold a government meeting the following day to discuss the protesters’ demands. He urged protesters to behave responsibly.

Protesters attend a rally in Almaty on January 4, 2022, after energy price hikes

Tokayev took office in 2019, handpicked as a successor by Nazarbayev, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

But Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, retains control over the country as chairman of the security council and ‘Leader of the Nation’ — a constitutional role that affords him unique policymaking privileges as well as immunity from prosecution.

Spontaneous, unsanctioned protests are illegal in Kazakhstan despite a law that passed last year easing some restrictions of freedom of assembly in the authoritarian state.

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