A post-Soviet autocratic Country, Kazakhstan has been facing its biggest crisis in aftermath of protests for a spike in fuel prices, which has led to widespread unrest since it gained independence three decades ago. Thousands of angry protestors went on the streets to convey their disregard, out of which more than 1,000 were killed by the security forces, as reported by the police on Thursday. Also, a total of 13 deaths of the members of security forces were announced by state television.
Recently, Russia sent troops to stabilize the situation at President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev request, who sought help from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) against the accused foreign-trained “terrorist groups” for driving the disturbance.
Along with CSTO, member states America, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, were also deployed for the secretariat aid. Further Moscow-led military alliance echoed support for Kazakhstan and extended help to position a “counter-terrorism” operation.
What led to the protests?
Earlier this year, on January 2, several residents of Zhanaozen, a town in western Kazakhstan, took to the street to demonstrate their boiled anger for hiking the price caps for Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), also known as autogas. It is a low-carbon fuel, widely used by the people of energy-rich Kazakhstan to power their cars. But, the recent protests stem from anger at social and economic disparities, along with the lack of democracy.
Kazakhstan has faced several problems, especially in the energy sector. Last year it failed to generate adequate electricity, which resulted in emergency shutdowns. The country thus had to outsource power outages from Russia to meet its ends. The food prices also witnessed a steep rise last autumn, and the government issued a ban on smaller livestock. The inflation level has been touching 9%- the highest level in five years, which resulted in increased interest rates to 9.75% by the central bank.
Protestors’ stage crowded the largest city of Kazakhstan, Almaty- a former capital and flamed it down. The statue of the country’s former President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was also pulled down. There have been multiple reports of protestors storming public institutions, firing police vehicles, tear gas shots, and explosions.
What do protestors want?
With the intensified demonstrations, the wants of the protestors have expanded significantly. They raised voices to lower fuel prices to widen the scope of political liberalization. They seek reform in the prevailing system of presidential appointments and transform it into a system of direct appointment of regional leaders.
Briefly, they are demanding a dismissal of the concurrent ruling forces, which had been enjoying power without any substantial opposition, since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
How has the Government reacted to the protests?
The Government has tried to finish the turmoil by imposing an emergency and blocking social networking platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, and, for the first time, a Chinese app- WeChat. It declared an emergency accusing protestors of “terrorist gang” to cause trouble. But, it also accepted a few demands. The government announced on Tuesday that the prices of fuel would decrease more than it was before the hike. While on Wednesday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev dismissed the cabinet. The proposal to dissolve Parliament is also under discussion. But, such acceptance has not been effective to settle down the discontent.
The important Political Leaders of the country
The most chanted slogan of the protest, “Old man go away”, highlights the urge of the demonstrators to bring quick political reform. The slogan of Kazakhs directs to the longest-ruling entity of the country- Nursultan Nazarbayev. He ruled Kazakhstan from 1989 until he officially handed over his power to Mr. Tokayev in 2019, who was then speaker of the upper house of the Parliament. Mr. Tokayev was perceived as a nominee for Nazarbayev to exercise power as the head of the Security Council.
The chants signals to the regime built by that Nazarbayev, as claimed by Bota Jardemalie, a Kazakh human rights advocate. Nazarbayev family has a monopoly in almost every sector of the economy, including oil and gas, hence there are speculations that it is the monopoly behind the inflated price caps of fuel.
Meanwhile, freedom of speech and civil rights are at stake in the preview of the current ruling government. The Journalist and political leaders are silenced, and arbitrary detention is restored. Although the country has witnessed a few protests in the past, this time, it has upscaled to another level, grabbing global attention. Demonstrators seem determined to break down Nazarbayev’s regime. They have begun to torch municipal buildings while police forces have used tear gas and stun grenade to pacify the situation.
The troops from Russia have arrived to stabilize the condition of the nation. Russian MP Leonid Kalashnikov said that the troops will station till the President finds it necessary in an interview with Interfax.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric in talks with the reporters of New York, urged to restrain and refrain from violence and promote dialogue for establishing peace.
European Union has called on Russia to respect and protect Kazakhstan’s sovereignty while Moscow led military alliance deploys in the country. It also urged to refrain from violence on both sides and move towards peaceful resolution.
China has maintained good ties with Kazakhstan and receives most of its oil export. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin added that although China shares a border with Kazakhstan, the situation is an “internal affair” and should be solved internally.
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