Kazakh activists call for more protests over presidential vote

ALMATY (Reuters) – Anti-government activists called on Monday for more protests in Kazakhstan against what they said was a rigged presidential election result, as police warned they would crack down on any dissent.

FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a news conference at the Akorda presidential residence in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/File Photo

Opposition groups circulated messages on social media calling for people to take to the streets on Wednesday, when Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will be inaugurated into the top job previously held by his patron, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The statements came a day after police detained scores of demonstrators in Almaty, the biggest city in the former Soviet republic, when Tokayev’s victory was confirmed.

A series of rallies since Sunday’s vote amounts to the biggest display of public discontent since 2016 when protests forced the authorities to shelve planned land reforms.

The interior ministry said police arrested 200 people on Monday in addition to 500 held a day earlier over protests which are illegal unless explicitly allowed by the government

Officers were out again in Almaty on Tuesday, with several National Guard personnel carrier trucks parked near the focal spot of past demonstrations.

Authorities have said the election results were legitimate and blamed the protests on Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), a movement led by fugitive former banker and minister Mukhtar Ablyazov.

POET DETAINED

Ablyazov, who is wanted in Kazakhstan on multiple felony charges which he has dismissed as politically motivated, lives in France and regularly attacks Nazarbayev on social media.

Monday night’s protests were triggered by the detention earlier that day of Rinat Zaitov, a poet and musician who has said he wants to start his own political movement.

About 200 of Zaitov’s supporters, some of whom broadcast the event online, gathered outside police headquarters and demanded his release until he appeared in front of the crowd saying he was free and heading home.

The crowd began an impromptu victory march through the city, some on foot and others driving slowly and honking their horns, until police blocked their way.

Police in black uniforms and balaclavas could be seen slamming people to the ground. News website Tengrinews.kz said police beat up one of its reporters at the site.

The Almaty police department said a car driven by protesters had hit a policeman and a police car had been damaged by stones hurled at it.

“Police… will not allow disturbances of public order, any illegal actions and threats to the lives and safety of citizens will be stopped in strict accordance with the law,” it said in a statement.

Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva and Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber

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