The president of Kazakhstan sacked his government on Wednesday and declared a state of emergency, in response to protests that erupted in several cities of this authoritarian country in Central Asia, unrest over rising gas prices.
These protests, including that of several thousand people dispersed with stun grenades and tear gas on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday by police in Almaty, the economic capital, are rare in Kazakhstan.
The Interior Ministry reported that more than 200 demonstrators were arrested for “breaches of public order” and 95 police officers injured.
The protesters “indulged in provocations” by blocking roads and traffic and “disturbing public order”, the ministry said in a statement.
Earlier, on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted the resignation of the government. Deputy Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov will assume the role of Acting Prime Minister until a new cabinet is formed.
A state of emergency was also declared until January 19 in the regions of Mangystau, where the demonstrations started, and of Almaty, where a night curfew will be in effect from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. local time.
A few hours earlier, Mr. Tokayev had addressed the population in a video posted on Facebook calling for a return to calm.
“We don’t need a conflict,” he said, after previously warning protesters against any “provocation.”
– “The old man outside!” –
The angry movement began on Sunday after a rise in the prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG), in the city of Janaozen, in the west of the country, before spreading to the large regional city of Aktau, on the edges from the Caspian Sea, then to Almaty.
The government had initially tried to calm, without success, the protesters by conceding a reduction in the price of LNG, fixing it at 50 tenges (0.1 euro) per liter in the region, against 120 at the beginning of the year. .
In Almaty, AFP journalists saw police dispersing a crowd of 5,000 people overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday with stun grenades and tear gas.
Protesters, some of whom attacked vehicles, chanted anti-government slogans like “Government resign!” and “The old man outside!”, in reference to the former president Nursultan Nazarbaïev, mentor of the current leader and still very influential.
Popular messengers WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal were down in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, while the sites of two independent media appeared to be blocked.
Television also reported on Wednesday the arrest of the director of a gas processing plant and another official in the Mangystau region, where Janaozen is located.
They are accused of having “increased the price of gas for no reason”, which “led to massive protests across the country”, according to this source.
Khazakstan, Central Asia’s largest economy accustomed in the past to double-digit growth rates, is suffering from falling oil prices and the economic crisis in Russia, which has led to the devaluation of the Kazakh tenge and a strong inflation.
The Mangystau region depends on LNG as the main source of fuel for cars and any increase in its price leads to that of food products, already on the rise since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.