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Kazakhstan unrest: Staff flee as protesters enter airport

Police seen at a barricade in Almaty on Wednesday

Image source, Reuters

Staff at Kazakhstan’s main airport have had to flee as nationwide anti-government demonstrations escalate.

A group of protesters entered the airport terminal in the country’s biggest city, Almaty, on Wednesday. Government buildings have also been targeted.

The authorities have cut internet and phone access.

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The protests began in response to fuel price rises but reflect long-standing grievances against the government.

The president has promised a tough response to the demonstrations, calling them a “black period” in the country’s history.

“As president, I am obliged to protect the safety and peace of our citizens, to worry about the integrity of Kazakhstan,” Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a TV address. He called the protesters “plotters” who were “financially motivated”.

Internet services in the country have been disrupted since Tuesday. By Wednesday, internet monitoring group NetBlocks reported that Kazakhstan was “in the midst of a nation-scale internet blackout”.

The protests began on Sunday when the government lifted the price cap on liquefied petroleum gas, which many people use to power their cars. Its price quickly doubled in a matter of days, and the unrest spread across the country, including Almaty.

But the dismissal of the government, and a promise to restore lower fuel prices, have not brought them to an end.

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Protests are not only about fuel

By Olga Ivshina, BBC Russian

The speed at which the protests turned violent took many by surprise, both in Kazakhstan and in the wider region, and hinted that they are not only about an increase in fuel prices.

This is a traditionally stable Central Asian state, which is often described as authoritarian. Until 2019 it was run by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose rule was marked by elements of a personality cult, with his statues erected across the country and a capital renamed after him.

Yet when he left, it was amid anti-government protests which he sought to limit by stepping down and putting a close ally in his place.

Most elections in Kazakhstan are won by the ruling party with nearly 100% of the vote and there is no effective political opposition.

The analysts I spoke to say that the Kazakh government clearly underestimated how angry the population was, and that these protests were not surprising in a country with no electoral democracy – people need to take to the streets to be heard.

And their grievances are almost certainly about a far wider set of issues than the price of fuel.

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