Middle East

What is behind the intense anxiety in oil-rich Kazakhstan?

Local protests over rising fuel prices have escalated into a national rebellion against the Kazakh government. The reasons are as follows:

Economic difficulties are widespread in Central Asian countries. (AFP)

Kazakhstan has experienced the worst street protests the country has seen since gaining independence 30 years ago.

Soaring car fuel prices at the beginning of the year triggered the first protests in remote oil towns in the west.

But since then, tens of thousands of people, who have surged to the streets of more than 12 cities and towns, are now looking at the entire government.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev first sought to soften the crowd by dismissing the entire government early Wednesday.

But by the end of the day, he changed his tack. He appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance, for help in quelling the uprising, and the CSTO agreed to send an unspecified number of peacekeepers.

Why are people so angry?

Of the five Central Asian republics that gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is by far the largest and wealthiest.

However, while Kazakhstan’s natural wealth has helped Kazakhstan develop a substantial cohort of solid middle class and ultra-rich people, economic challenges are widespread.

The banking system has become a prey to the serious crisis caused by bad debts.

The rally that caused this crisis took place in the western oil city of Zhanaozen.

It has long been indignant in the region in the sense that the wealth of energy in the region is not evenly distributed.

Patience soared when the price of liquefied petroleum gas, which most people in the region use to power their cars, doubled overnight on Saturday.

Residents of nearby cities quickly joined, and within a few days large-scale protests spread to the rest of the country.

Who is leading the protest?

These national demonstrations are unusually large, with some demonstrators attracting more than 10,000 people, many for Kazakhstan, but no protest leaders have emerged.

For much of Kazakhstan’s recent history, power was in the hands of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

That changed in 2019 when Nazarbayev, now 81, set aside and anointed his longtime ally Tokaev as his successor.

Nazarbayev continued to have considerable influence across the country as head of the Security Council, which oversees military and security services.

Tokaev announced on Wednesday that he would take over from Nazarbayev as the head of the Security Council.

Much of the anger displayed on the streets these days was directed not at Tokaev, but at Nazarbayev, who is widely regarded as the ultimate ruler of the country.

The slogan “Shalket!” (“Old man goes”) has become the main slogan.

How are the authorities responding?

The Interior Ministry said Friday that 26 “armed criminals” were killed in the mayhem and 18 were injured.

Kazakh officials also said 18 guards were killed and 748 were injured.

Tokaev sought support from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led military alliance.

He justified the allegations of external intervention by claiming that the protesters were operating at the request of an “international terrorist group.”

The explosion of instability raises serious concerns for Kazakhstan’s two strong neighbors, Russia and China.

The country sells most of its oil exports to China and is an important strategic ally of Moscow.

Can protests make a difference?

This is an unknown area for Kazakhstan.

The country has seen major demonstrations before: after the controversial land law was passed in 2016.

And again in 2019, after the controversial elections that secured Tokaev’s retention of power. But there is nothing at this scale.

In one of Wednesday’s appeals to the public, Tokaev promised to pursue reforms, implying that political liberalization might be possible.

But his dark remarks towards the end of the day suggested that he would instead go on a more illegal path.

Still, street protests are so out of focus that it’s hard to know how they will end, at least for now.

But even if they fail to defeat the government, they seem to have the potential to lead to deep change.

What is not clear is what that means.

Source: TRT World and distributors

https://www.trtworld.com/asia/explained-what-s-behind-the-violent-unrest-in-oil-rich-kazakhstan-53398?utm_source=other&utm_medium=rss What is behind the intense anxiety in oil-rich Kazakhstan?

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