Police in Kazakhstan used stun grenades and tear gas on Tuesday to disperse a demonstration against rising gas prices bringing together several thousand people in Almaty, the economic capital of the central Asian country.
This demonstration in an authoritarian country where this type of gathering is rare, follows a movement of anger that has erupted in several cities of the country since Sunday.
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Two AFP journalists, who saw police fire on Tuesday to disperse the crowd in Almaty, counted at least 5,000 participants in this demonstration. The popular Whatsapp, Telegram and Signal messengers were inaccessible overnight. Protesters were seen attacking vehicles, including a fire engine. Several protesters and riot police were hospitalized with what appeared to be minor injuries, AFP said.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev addressed the people by video, urging them to
"be cautious" and "not to give in to provocations"
. The anger 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 rich in natural resources, before spreading to the large regional city of 'Aktau on the shores of the Caspian Sea. On Tuesday evening, the authorities tried to calm the situation by conceding a reduction in the price of LNG by setting it at 50 tenge (0.1 euro) per liter in the region, against 120 at the start of the year. Justifying this regional concession, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assured on Twitter that it was
"to ensure stability in the country".
Economy in difficulty
However, this promise did not lead to the dispersal of the demonstrators, who demanded to speak to the president.
Local media showed images of thousands of them surrounded by police.
Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev had at the same time announced that a government commission, including members of his services, had
"started to work"
"The commission is instructed to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem raised in the interest of the stability of the country,"
Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev nevertheless warned against
"disturbances to public order"
, calling on the demonstrators to
"show responsibility and willingness to dialogue".
Janaozen was in the past the scene of the deadliest unrest that has rocked Kazakhstan since its independence from the USSR in 1991. In 2011, at least 14 workers at an oil site were killed when police cracked down on a protest against working conditions and wages.
The Mangystau region, where the city of Janaozen is located, depends on LNG as the main source of fuel for cars and any rise in its price leads to that of food products, already on the rise since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in power since 2019, was chosen as successor by historic leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who ruled Kazakhstan for thirty years from 1989 and retains influence.
Khazakstan, Central Asia's largest economy and accustomed in the past to double-digit growth rates, is suffering from falling oil prices and the economic crisis in Russia, which led to the devaluation of the Kazakh tenge and resulted in high inflation.