The Stream

What’s next after protests in Kazakhstan?

On Wednesday, January 12 at 19:30 GMT:
Kazakhstan is restive after government forces subdued the most widespread anti-government protests since the country declared independence in 1991.

The death toll from several days of unrest remains unclear, with the country’s interior ministry on Sunday retracting a statement that at least 164 people had died. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called the protests an “attempted coup d’etat”, without offering evidence. Nearly 10,000 people have been detained, the country’s interior ministry says.

The protests began on January 2 in the western town of Zhanaozen, a day after the government removed subsidies on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that people use to fuel vehicles, doubling its price. Thousands of people soon joined demonstrations in other parts of Kazakhstan, including in the capital Nur-Sultan and Almaty, the country’s most populous city.

Demonstrators shouted slogans against Tokayev’s government and Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stood down as president in 2019 after nearly three decades but who still wields considerable political and economic power behind the scenes. While many protesters were peaceful there were violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Some demonstrators attacked government buildings and ransacked shops and businesses.

The government’s reversal on the LPG price caps, as well as Tokayev’s decision on January 5 to sack the cabinet and remove Nazarbayev from the chairmanship of Kazakhstan’s security council, did little to placate public anger. Protesters continued to rally against long-running economic and social inequality, corruption, and authoritarian restrictions on free speech, assembly and political engagement.

After Russian troops joined a regional peacekeeping force deployment to Kazakhstan at Tokayev’s request, the president ordered security forces to “shoot to kill without warning” to quell unrest that he blamed on foreign-trained “terrorist groups”.

There are now signs that Tokayev is moving to sweep out Nazarbayev loyalists and consolidate his own power.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll talk about what brought so many people to take to the streets in Kazakhstan and ask what happens next.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Bota Jardemalie, @jardemalie
Human rights defender and lawyer

Assel Tutumlu, @AsselTutumlu
Assistant Professor, Near East University

Yerzhan Ashikbayev, @KZAmbUS
Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States