Police detain 26 at anti-government protests in Kazakhstan

Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP) –


Police detained more than two dozen people on Saturday in Kazakhstan's main cities for participating in protests called by a banned opposition group where they criticised the government and Chinese expansion.

Officers detained around a dozen people and manhandled them into police vans in the centre of Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty, AFP correspondents saw.

Police said a total of 26 people were arrested in Almaty and the capital Nur-Sultan, 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) to the north.

One citizen who was detained in Almaty told journalists he opposed "Sinicization" and was "against the Chinese factories coming here."

Neighbouring China is a key economic partner for Kazakhstan which has described itself as the "buckle" in Beijing's trillion-dollar Belt and Road trade and infrastructure project.

But hundreds of Kazakhs have taken to the streets in recent months to voice fears over Chinese investment in the oil-rich country.

Another protester shouted "Old man out!" in reference to Kazakhstan's 79-year-old former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in March but is still constitutionally designated the "Leader of the Nation."

The protests were called by Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, an informal group led by long-time regime opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov that was ruled extremist by a Kazakh court last year.

Ablyazov, a fugitive ex-banker who lives in Western Europe, has pledged to overthrow the regime of Nazarbayev and his handpicked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

He has dismissed Tokayev, a 66-year-old career diplomat, as "furniture" who will be replaced by Nazarbayev's daughter in due time.

This month Tokayev signed off on a presidential order allocating Nazarbayev power over key ministerial and other appointments.

Currently all protests are illegal in Kazakhstan unless permitted by authorities, which almost never happens in the case of political protests.

Nazarbayev's rule over Kazakhstan began when it was still a Soviet republic and the strongman chairs both the country's ruling party Nur Otan and the powerful national security council.