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Country declares ‘state of emergency’ in cities hit by protests over fuel price hike

On Wednesday, Kazakhstan’s president declared states of emergency in Almaty and an oil-rich region of the vast former Soviet country because of protests over a regional energy price hike. Kazakhstan’s financial capital Almaty has been in chaos since late Tuesday after police used tear gas and stun grenades to quell protests that began in the west of the country due to an increase in Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) prices.

From January 5 to January 19, President Qasym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency in Almaty and western Mangystau, a hydrocarbon-rich region. In both territories, a curfew will be in effect from 23:00 to 7:00 a.m. Earlier, Tokayev had called for the return of the order in a Facebook video posted by his press secretary Berik Uali.

Over five thousand protesters marched through Almaty’s central streets shouting anti-government slogans and attacking vehicles as police fired stun grenades and tear gas at them. Tokayev’s still powerful predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev was referred to as ‘old man out’. Demonstrators chanted ‘Government resign’ before police moved in, sparking a battle between protesters and police.

As well as the messaging apps Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp, two independent news sites that reported on the protests appear to have been blocked. There have been protests across the country of 19 million since Sunday, beginning in Zhanaozen in Mangystau. An increase in LPG prices in hydrocarbon-rich Mangystau initially sparked the unrest, even as a government move to lower the prices was ineffective. The president of Mangystau, Qasym-Jomart Tokayev, announced Tuesday that the price of LPG had been lowered ‘to ensure stability’.

Media reports indicate that his announcement of a revised price of 50 tenges per litre (11 cents), down from 120 at the start of the year, barely dampened protests in Zhanaozen and Aktau, the capital of Mangystau. In Nur-Sultan, the capital, activists were arrested and small spontaneous marches were reported. Mangystau’s main source of fuel for its automobiles is cheap LPG. Food prices have risen steeply since the Coronavirus pandemic began, so any increase in prices would have affected them.


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