Politics

In Kazakhstan, riots destabilize the government after energy price increased

After gas prices suddenly increased, protests quickly spread out in the country. Kazakhstan’s prime minister resigned but the situation remains tense.

[this is a developing story]

A burning police car in Almaty, Kazakhstan
A burning police car during a protest against LPG cost rise in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022 | © REUTERS

On January 5, the prime minister of Kazakhstan resigned after violent protests arose in the country about increased gas prices. The president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted the resignation of the government.

But the resignation doesn’t seem to have calmed down protesters as some broke the presidential complex in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. Videos showed smoked coming out of the administration building. Protesters stormed public buildings in several cities.

The day before, protesters clashed with security forces who tried to disperse them with tear gas and flashbang grenades. Protests continued during the night.

The interior ministry said that government buildings were attacked in the southern cities of Shymkent and Taraz overnight. Attacks on banks, looting of restaurants or stores, or burned vehicles during the night have also been reported by authorities.

Sudden spike of gas prices

On January 1, the country lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas because regulations caused losses for producers and prices needed to be liberalized, the government justified. However, it led to the start of the protests as many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG because of its low cost compared to other car fuels.

In fact, LPG prices at gas stations doubled in few hours. On January 5, the Russian news agency TASS reported taxi fares from Almaty airport to the city center quadrupled.

Protests began in the oil-producing western province of Mangistau on Sunday. Demonstrations quickly spread out across the country, including Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan.

The president said the move was clumsy and blamed the government, in particular the ministry of Energy, as well as gas companies like the state-owned KazMunaiGas.

On January 4, the president decided to revert gas price control in Mangistau. But it didn’t stop protests.

After the government’s resignation, the president ordered acting cabinet members and provincial governors to temporarily reinstate price controls on LPG and broaden them to gasoline, diesel for a period of 6 months and potentially other “socially important” consumer goods for 180 days.

He also ordered the acting government to develop a personal bankruptcy law, and consider subsidizing rent payments for poor families.

A state of emergency has been declared in Nur-Sultan and Almaty, and in the provinces of Almaty and Mangistau until January 18. There will be a curfew from 11pm to 7am, restrictions on entry and exit and a ban on public gatherings, protests or strikes.

Internet connections and communication disrupted

Videos claimed some armed forces rallied protesters or refused to detain protesters. Some others showed protesters carrying police material. Officials said reports about security forces joining protesters were fake.

Orda’s website, a Kazakh news organization, has been blocked amid its coverage of protests against increased gas prices. But on January 5, Orda shared on its Telegram account that police in Aktobe said they were with the people and would not raise a hand against them.

The website of news agency KazTag has also been blocked after it refused to delete articles about the protests at the request of the ministry of Information.

Internet connection has been disrupted in several cities. WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram messages not working in Almaty or Nur-Sultan have also been reported on Tuesday.

On January 5, Netblocks, a site that monitors global internet connectivity, said the country was “in the midst of a nation-scale internet blackout“.

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