Dozens detained, as Kazakhs protest against China, former president

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 21 2019 11:11 PM

Kazakh law enforcement officers detain a participant of an opposition rally in Almaty on September 21, 2019. Kazakhstan's foreign-based opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov has called for protests across the country as his Democratic Choice Kazakhstan movement seeks to take advantage of protest mood that has grown since leader Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down from the presidency in March. Ruslan Pryanikov/AFP

ALMATY, Kazakhstan - Police detained dozens of protesters in Kazakhstan Saturday for rallying against Chinese economic expansion and former strongman president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is still a powerful force in the former Soviet nation. 

An AFP correspondent saw around three dozen people apprehended by police and bundled into vans in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city.

Kazakhstan's interior ministry said that 57 people had been detained in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, the national capital, for participating in unsanctioned protests. 

"Despite repeated warnings from the prosecutor's office, some citizens succumbed to the provocative calls of a banned extremist organization," the interior ministry said, referring to the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan organization. 

One man in Almaty criticized the government for favouring Chinese investment and trade over local production.

"They have turned us into a raw goods country!" he said.

After he finished speaking, police detained him.

In Nur-Sultan, a journalist for Radio Free Europe's Kazakh service, Saniya Toiken, was detained while attempting to cover the protests, Toiken told AFP after police released her. 

Kazakh courts sentenced around 50 people to detention for up to 15 days ahead of the protest, according to civic groups monitoring the detentions. 

DCK, which is led by long-time regime opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov, was ruled extremist by a Kazakh court last year. 

Kazakhstan's state prosecutor said this week that Ablyazov -- a former energy minister and bank chief who fled the country in 2009 -- "misleads ordinary people" with calls to protest against the regime. 

Kazakhstan's new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had earlier this month pledged to ease restrictive legislation on demonstrations.

Currently, all protests are illegal in Kazakhstan unless permitted by authorities, although some small protests and one-person pickets have been ignored by police in recent weeks. 

Tokayev, 66, became president after the shock resignation in March of long-ruling leader Nazarbayev, who proposed the loyalist's candidacy at a meeting of the ruling party that Nazarbayev still chairs.