Kazakh police break up anti-govt protests on proposed land reforms

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan: Police detained dozens of protesters in Kazakhstan on Saturday during small anti-government rallies in the country’s major cities, prosecutors said.

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Opposition activists had called for demonstrations in the Central Asian country’s largest cities, including Astana, Almaty and Karagandy, to protest a controversial proposal for land reforms that includes extending land leases for foreigners.

Authorities had rejected all applications to hold protests on Saturday and cordoned off the main squares of Almaty and Astana, while activists called on their supporters to protest nonetheless.

In Almaty, the country’s largest city, some 100 people took to the streets.

Kazakhstan’s deputy prosecutor general, Andrei Kravchenko, said that as of Saturday, 40 people had been arrested for organizing and taking part in these unauthorized demonstrations, TASS news agency reported.

Kravchenko said Saturday that the police force had worked to “prevent any violations of the law.”

A number of journalists were briefly detained during the protests. Kazakh police later said that the arrests had been a “misunderstanding,” Interfax news agency reported.

In April demonstrators had taken to the streets in a string of provincial towns to protest proposed land reforms the government says are important to attract investment into the country.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier this month halted the proposal, saying that “doubts had arisen in society.”

A combination of inflation and falling real incomes have fueled social discontent in a country often regarded as a regional success story despite endemic corruption.

Kazakhstan’s tenge currency shed around half its value after the government abandoned a trading corridor with the dollar last year under pressure from low crude prices and Russia’s economic downturn.

Land policy is highly politicized in ex-Soviet Central Asia where privatization policies of the 1990s are often recalled with bitterness and where nearby China is seeking to expand its agricultural interests. AFP

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