Home LATEST NEWS Poverty and inequalities at the root of unrest in Kazakhstan

Poverty and inequalities at the root of unrest in Kazakhstan


We have all the minerals in the periodic table of elements, but we live in poverty, loose Galiya, a protester from Almaty, the main Kazakh city, affected by the worst violence.

Everything has become so expensive, deplores this 42-year-old woman who did not wish to give her last name for fear of prosecution, and is now considering going abroad.

Last week, this country the size of five times the size of France was hit by violence never seen since its independence in 1991 when the USSR broke up. They left dozens of dead and hundreds injured, prompting the express deployment of Russian peacekeepers, while nearly 8,000 people were arrested.

If the Kazakh authorities denounced a terrorist operation Fomented from abroad and having benefited from a social movement, in fact, the discontent of the Kazakhs had simmered for years in this authoritarian state undermined by poverty, the corruption of the elites and the repression of the opposition.

The sharp rise in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a widely used fuel, on January 1, 2022, was the last straw. Demonstrations erupted in the west, the country’s oil basin, then spread to the rest of Kazakhstan, before turning into armed clashes with the police.

Cars are lining up to fill their cars with gas.

The rise in the price of liquefied petroleum gas, a fuel widely used in Kazakhstan, ignited the powder at the beginning of January.

Photo: The Canadian Press / AP / Vladimir Tretyakov

The violence of the clashes, especially in the economic capital Almaty, has shaken the power that prided itself on being the most stable in the region.

The problem is that the wages are not moving. [Le pouvoir d’achat] is a trigger, and death and horror were the consequences. I believe that, from now on, the government will take the people into account a little more often.

A quote from Natalia, 34-year-old psychologist, interviewed in Almaty

For many Kazakhs, the chasm separating the ruling elite, which is enriched by the manna of hydrocarbons and minerals, and a continuously impoverished population has become intolerable.

In Almaty, the mountainous suburbs are dotted with luxurious, colorful mansions. The lower part of the city is dilapidated, a monotonous gray and plunged in smog.

Nur-Sultan, capital since 1997 bearing the name of ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev, built in the middle of the frozen steppe, has become with billions of petrodollars a sparkling city of quirky skyscrapers, golden glass towers and another pyramid.

A splendor that contrasts with the province, dusty or muddy depending on the season, and where the problems of access to water remain a reality.

In 2021, a long drought as well as disruptions in trade with neighboring China caused by the pandemic fueled high inflation.

This has been added to the losses in purchasing power of recent years, as in 2015, when the tenge, the local currency, was devalued by 50%, against the backdrop of a global collapse in commodity prices.

A Kazakh law enforcement officer stands guard near a burnt out truck at a checkpoint in Almaty.

The riots caused extensive damage in Almaty.

Photo: Reuters / PAVEL MIKHEYEV

Added to these external factors is poor government management, underlines Oksana Sorokina, director of Almaty-based SevenR Logistics.

According to her, in 2021, frequent regulatory changes, lower subsidies and speculations on the Chinese side caused an increase in the cost of transporting imported goods.

: at the end of the year we had a shortage of goods and delusional prices which, of course, were passed on to consumers “,” text “:” Result: at the end of the year we have had a shortage of goods and delusional prices which, of course, were passed on to consumers “}}”>Result: at the end of the year we had a shortage of goods and crazy prices which, of course, were passed on to consumers, explains Ms. Sorokina.

The prices are out of control, confirms Tatiana Boldyreva, a resident of Almaty interviewed by AFP in a street where a butcher cuts quarters of meat for hungry customers, after days of closing shops because of the riots.

But that’s no reason to start a war, continues this professor, the arms loaded with plastic bags filled with milk.

A coup attempt, according to the president

The President of Kazakhstan assured Monday that the deadly riots in his country were a coup attempt, before promising that the Russian troops and other allies, called to the rescue, would leave soon.

Life was gradually resuming in Almaty. Authorities have intermittently reconnected the Internet, but the charred facades of public buildings and the wrecks of burnt vehicles still bear witness to the violence of the clashes.

During a videoconference, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took stock of the events in front of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and his other allies who had deployed 2,030 men in the former Soviet republic.

Both he and the master of the Kremlin promised a withdrawal of these forces once their mission was accomplished.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

President of Kazakhstan Kasym-Jomart Tokayev.

Photo: AP / Yevgeny Biyatov

The human toll of the unrest, the worst that this former Soviet republic has known since independence in 1991, remains unknown.

Tokayev said the number of civilian casualties was being verified. He reported 16 killed and more than 1,600 injured in the police, but the total number of deaths is in the tens according to local authorities.

For the president, his country has been attacked by armed combatant groups who used anger and protests over rising fuel prices to take action.

Their goal became clear: to undermine constitutional order, destroy institutions of governance and seize power. It was an attempted coup.

A quote from Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan

The suddenness and violence of the riots led the Kazakh president to call on Russia for help. A multinational contingent from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led alliance, was deployed on January 6.

According to Mr. Tokayev, these 2,030 soldiers and 250 vehicles should leave soon Kazakhstan, Vladimir Putin confirming that his soldiers were there for a limited period.

These remarks echo criticism from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had ruled that he would be very difficult to remove the Russian military.

After days of looting, exchanges of gunfire as well as the burning of the presidential residence and the town hall of Almaty, Mr. Tokayev assured Monday that constitutional order [avait] been restored.

According to him, the country was a victim of forces terrorists organized including many Islamists only criminals, from breakers and small keystrokes. They would have taken advantage of a movement of anger linked to a drastic increase in the price of fuel to try to overthrow power.

He assured that the Kazakh forces have never used and will never use military force against peaceful protesters.

A man places flowers in front of a fence.

A man lays flowers in memory of the victims in front of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Moscow.

Photo: The Canadian Press / AP / Alexander Zemlianichenko

The president had given Friday the authorization to the police to “shoot to kill without warning” on the armed bandits.

Vladimir Putin also believed that Kazakhstan had faced a aggression of international terrorism, also evoking bands of armed men, arranging clearly from combat experience and which, according to him, were formed in centers abroad.

He then warned that Moscow will not tolerate colored revolutions in the former USSR, a recurring formula to describe revolts orchestrated, according to the Kremlin, by the West in ex-Soviet countries since the 2000s.

A day of mourning was also observed on Monday in Kazakhstan. Internet, telephone network and public transport were gradually restored on Monday in Almaty. Mass arrests continued.

In addition to the rise in prices, the anger of the demonstrators was also directed against the endemic corruption in the country and against the former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who ruled the country without division from 1989 to 2019, before handing over the reins. of power to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a faithful.

Mr. Nazarbayev has not appeared publicly since the unrest began, amid rumors of his flight abroad. His spokesperson, Aïdos Oukibaï, said on Saturday that the former president called on the population to support the government.

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