Protests against soaring energy prices took place in Kazakhstan for a third consecutive day on Tuesday, marking a rare show of mass public dissent in the former Soviet republic.
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades in a bid to break up an unprecedented thousands-strong march in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city on Tuesday.
The police opened fire after the protesters refused to disperse, two AFP agency journalists reported, estimating there were more than 5,000 protesters present.
The demonstrations initially erupted during the weekend in the town of Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich western Mangystau region, sparked by the lifting of price caps on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
They have since spread to several towns and cities, including the regional hub of Aktau on the country’s Caspian Sea coast, as well as a worker camp used by subcontractors of Kazakhstan’s biggest oil producer, Tengizchevroil. The protests have reportedly involved thousands of people.
Massive protests across Kazakhstan on the background of worsening economic conditions, fuel price hike.
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) January 4, 2022
Demonstrators in Zhanaozen, an oil industry hub where dozens of people were killed in protests in 2011 triggered by the sacking of oil workers calling for better pay and working conditions, demanded the price of LPG be halved from 120 tenge ($0.27) per litre to the level at which the fuel was sold last year.
Retailers have agreed to cut the price by a quarter but President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s government has said further cuts are impossible because of production costs.
The price had previously been regulated, but officials said artificially low prices were making LPG production infeasible.
President calls for ‘dialogue’
Tokayev has moved to try and to calm the protests.
He said on Twitter late on Tuesday that authorities had taken a decision to lower LPG prices in the western Mangystau region “in order to ensure stability in the country.”
“Law enforcement agencies have been instructed to ensure that public order is not violated. Demonstrators must show responsibility and willingness to enter dialogue,” Tokayev said earlier on Tuesday.
His remarks came after videos circulated on social media showed police encircling protesters in Aktau on Monday evening.
There were also reports on social media that authorities had cut off the internet in some areas, blocked news websites and detained reporters in response to the demonstrations. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify those reports.
#Kazakhstan: @kaztagkz & https://t.co/WEEVv6y3j2 blocked amid coverage of protests against gas price rises! KazTAG news agency refused to delete an article at the Ministry of Info @aqdm_mior's request for allegedly false information. @RSF_en calls for an end to this censorship. pic.twitter.com/v3nyflqIpo
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) January 4, 2022
Tokayev took office in 2019, handpicked as a successor by the country’s founding leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
But Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had who governed Kazakhstan since 1989, retains control over the country as chairman of the security council and “Leader of the Nation” – a title that affords him unique policymaking privileges as well as immunity from prosecution.