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Kazakhstan Tightens Security To Prevent Mass Protests On Independence Day

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service December 16, 2021

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Security measures have been beefed up in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, to prevent mass protests as the country marks the 30th anniversary of independence.

Almaty's Republic Square and major streets nearby were cordoned off by police on December 16, while Internet access was blocked in the area.

"It is not a celebration day now, it is a day of mourning," Yrysbek Toqtasyn told RFE/RL, referring to two anniversaries of violent crackdowns on protests that coincide with Kazakhstan's Independence Day.

One is the 1986 anti-Kremlin youth demonstrations, known as Zheltoqsan, in Almaty that erupted after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev replaced Kazakhstan's long-term ruler, Dinmukhammed Konaev, with Gennady Kolbin, an ethnic Russian sent by Moscow to head the republic.

Demonstrations against the appointment were squelched by a violent crackdown by Soviet authorities. Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed by security forces, while officially only several people lost their lives during the demonstrations that lasted for three days.

Also, 10 years ago police opened fire at protesting oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, killing at least 16 people and one person in the nearby town of Shetpe.

Despite the police cordon on December 16, dozens of protesters representing the unregistered opposition Democratic Party managed to make it to Republic Square, chanting "Zheltoqsan! Zhanaozen! We will not forget! We will not forgive!" and held a collective prayer near the monument to Zheltoqsan victims.

Toqtasyn, one of the protesters, told RFE/RL that "the essence of Independence Day has gone" because of the blood shed on that day in Zhanaozen in 2011.

Seven activists of the Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan!) youth group held a performance to honor victims of Zheltoqsan and Zhanaozen in Almaty's center, wearing white clothes with a target mark on their backs splashed with red paint.

In Nur-Sultan, the capital, police cordoned the area around the Monument to the Victims of the 1930s Famine and the Internet was switched off there as well.

Many opposition activists across the Central Asian state were detained before December 16 on charges related to their previous participation in unsanctioned rallies.

On December 16, leading opposition activist Almat Zhumaghulov was detained when he was leaving a shop in Almaty without explanation. Zhumaghulov was released from prison in early October after serving four years for supporting the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) opposition movement.

The DVK, established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive tycoon and opposition politician, had announced plans to organize rallies in the two cities and elsewhere in Kazakhstan on Independence Day.

A court banned the movement, branding it an extremist organization in 2017. The move was criticized by the European Parliament as politically motivated.

Ablyazov and his movement have openly called on Kazakhs to rally against the government, which has been dominated for more than 30 years by the 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Nazarbaev resigned abruptly in March 2019 as president and picked Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as his replacement, but continues to control social, economic, and political spheres by leading the influential Security Council and enjoying limitless powers as "elbasy" -- the leader of the nation.

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-independence -day-clampdown/31612276.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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