Kazakh President Says Government 'Will Not Fall' Amid Protests
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a session of the Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan November 28, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Tuesday his government would not fall, as protests in some major cities turned violent and a crowd tried to storm the mayor's office in the Central Asian nation's biggest city.
"Calls to attack government and military offices are absolutely illegal," Tokayev said in a video address. "The government will not fall, but we want mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict."
As he spoke, police in the main city of Almaty used tear gas and stun grenades to stop hundreds of protesters from storming the mayor's office, a Reuters correspondent reported from the scene.
The oil-rich country's government announced late on Tuesday it was restoring some price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, after the rare protests reached Almaty following a sharp rise in the price of the fuel at the start of the year.
Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG, long far cheaper than gasoline as a vehicle fuel in Kazakhstan because of price caps. But the government argued that the low price was unsustainable and lifted the caps on Jan. 1.
After the price of the fuel spiked, rallies involving thousands of people erupted on Jan. 2 in the town of Zhanaozen, an oil hub and site of deadly clashes between protesters and police a decade ago.
Demonstrations spread to other parts of surrounding Mangistau province and western Kazakhstan, including provincial centre Aktau and a worker camp used by sub-contractors of Kazakhstan's biggest oil producer, Tengizchevroil. The Chevron-led venture said output had not been affected.
AKTAU, KAZAKHSTAN - JANUARY 4, 2022: People protest the liquefied petroleum gas price rise in Yntymak Square. The price that was raised on January 1, 2022, was lowered from $ 0.27 to 0.11 after a meeting between protesters and Kazakhstan's government commission. Isa Tyazhenbayev/TASS.
In Almaty, police cordoned off the main square on Monday and Tuesday, and local media reported that dozens of people were detained late on Tuesday as protesters blocked a busy street. Mobile internet was jammed in the downtown area.
On Tuesday evening, the government announced it was restoring the price cap of 50 tenge ($0.11) per litre, or less than half the market price, in Mangistau province.
Public protests are illegal in Kazakhstan unless their organisers file a notice in advance. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the hand-picked successor of Soviet-era Communist boss Nursultan Nazarbayev who stepped down in 2019, faces no political opposition in parliament.
Tokayev said on Twitter on Tuesday that he would hold a government meeting the following day to discuss the protesters' demands. He urged protesters to behave responsibly.