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What is happening in Kazakhstan?

Why are there protests in Kazakhstan right now? Here’s what you need to know

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Smoke in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.

Smoke rises from City Hall during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Civil unrest continues across the nation due to rising gas prices.

Yan Blagov, Associated Press

On Wednesday, cities across Kazakhstan witnessed unrest as thousands of protesters took to the streets to oppose the sharp rise in fuel prices.

  • Protesters seized government buildings and demanded that the “Father of the Nation,” Nursultan Nazarbayev, step down and for the three-decade rule to end, per The Washington Post.
  • The former president already stepped down in 2019 but has continued to hold power behind the scenes under the title “Father of the Nation.”
  • The protests pushed current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to replace Nazarbayev as head of the country’s National Security Council. Previously Tokayev dismissed his entire ministerial Cabinet and declared a two-week state of emergency for the country, which was followed by an internet blackout, according to The Associated Press.

What are the protests about?

Price caps on liquified petroleum gas, or LPG, were lifted on Saturday. The price of fuel doubled within days after that. An estimated 70% to 90% of vehicles in the country use LPG.

  • The protests started in western Kazakhstan, an oil-rich area, and by Tuesday, they had exploded into the rest of the country.
  • The internet blackout made messaging apps like Whatsapp and Telegram completely unavailable as television channels also started going dark, per The Associated Press.

What happens now?

Tokayev, in an attempt to simmer down the outrage, said the government will reintroduce a price cap. He took to Twitter to discourage people from joining the unrest.

  • “I ask the demonstrators not to follow the calls of destructive persons interested in undermining the stability and unity of our society,” he said in a tweet, adding that the government will meet to discuss any “socioeconomic demands.”

Even though Tokayev has given in to some demands, he vowed to take “maximally tough action” against protesters.

What’s the bigger picture?

Kazakhstan is strategically placed between Russia and China. Moscow, in fact, considers the country under its influence. According to The Washington Post, Russia has negatively reacted to political instability in the former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Belarus.

  • Ultimately, Nazarbayev, who was removed from his powerful position, still has the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was keeping a close eye on the situation.

  • “We stand for a peaceful solution to be found to all problems in line with the constitution and laws and with the help of dialogue rather than through street riots and violations of laws,” the ministry said, per the report.
  • “Hopefully, the situation will be normalized as soon as possible in the country, with which Russia has a strategic partnership and allied, fraternal and people-to-people contacts.”