Monday July 4th, 2022 1:43AM

EXPLAINER: What's behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MOSCOW (AP) — Kazakhstan is experiencing the worst street protests the country has seen since gaining independence three decades ago.

The outburst of instability is causing significant concern in Kazakhstan's two powerful neighbors: Russia and China. The country sells most of its oil exports to China and is a key strategic ally of Moscow.

A sudden spike in the price of car fuel at the start of the year triggered the first protests in a remote oil town in the west. But the tens of thousands who have since surged onto the streets across more than a dozen cities and towns now have the entire authoritarian government in their sights.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has cut an increasingly desperate figure. He first sought to mollify the crowds by dismissing the entire government early Wednesday. But by the end of the day he had changed tack. First, he described demonstrators as terrorists. Then he appealed to a Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, for help in crushing the uprising and the CSTO agreed to send an unspecified number of peacekeepers.


Of the five Central Asian republics that gained independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is by far the largest and the wealthiest. It spans a territory the size of Western Europe and sits atop colossal reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals.

But while Kazakhstan’s natural riches have helped it cultivate a solid middle class, as well as a substantial cohort of ultrarich tycoons, financial hardship is widespread. The average national monthly salary is just under $600. The banking system has fallen prey to deep crises precipitated by non-performing loans. As in much of the rest of the region, petty corruption is rampant.

The rally that set off the latest crisis took place in the dusty western oil town of Zhanaozen. Resentments have long festered in the area over a sense that the region's energy riches haven't been fairly spread among the local population. In 2011, police shot dead at least 15 people in the city who were protesting in support of oil workers dismissed after a strike.

When prices for the liquified petroleum gas most people in the area use to power their cars doubled overnight Saturday, patience snapped. Residents in nearby cities quickly joined in and within days large protests had spread to the rest of the country.


The suppression of critical voices in Kazakhstan has long been the norm. Any figures aspiring to oppose the government have either been repressed, sidelined, or co-opted. So although these demonstrations have been unusually large — some drawing more than 10,000 people, a large number for Kazakhstan — no protest movement leaders have emerged.

For most of Kazakhstan's recent history power was held in the hands of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. That changed in 2019 when Nazarbayev, now 81, stepped aside and anointed his long-time ally Tokayev as his successor. In his capacity as head of the security council that oversees the military and security services, Nazarbayev continued to retain considerable sway over the country. Tokayev announced Wednesday that he was taking over from Nazarbayev as security council head.

Much of the anger displayed on the streets in recent days was directed not at Tokayev, but at Nazarbayev, who is still widely deemed the country’s ultimate ruler. The slogan “Shal ket!” (“Old man go”) has become a main slogan.


A police official in Almaty said Thursday that dozens of protesters were killed in attacks on government buildings. At least a dozen police officers were also killed, including one who got beheaded.

There were attempts to storm buildings in Almaty during the night and “dozens of attackers were liquidated,” police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek said. She spoke on state news channel Khabar-24. The reported attempts to storm the buildings came after widespread unrest in the city on Wednesday, including seizure of the mayor’s building, which was set on fire.

The initial reaction was in keeping with usual policy in the face of public discontent. Police and the National Guard were deployed in large numbers. The crowd that made its way to City Hall in the commercial capital, Almaty, early Wednesday was met by large phalanxes of riot police and armored personnel carriers. While gatherings are normally dispersed with ease, the number of people on the street this time was too large.

With government buildings coming under assault in several large cities, Tokayev appealed for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led military alliance. He justified the appeal for external intervention by claiming the protesters were operating at the behest of international terrorist groups. He offered no details on what he meant by that.


This is uncharted territory for Kazakhstan. The country has seen major demonstrations before: In 2016, after the passage of a contentious land law. And again in 2019, after the contentious election that secured Tokayev’s hold on power. But never anything on this scale.

In one of his appeals to the public Wednesday, Tokayev pledged to pursue reforms and hinted that political liberalization might be possible. His darker remarks toward the end of the day, however, suggested he would instead go down a more repressive road.

Still, because the street protests are so lacking in focus, at least for now, it's difficult to see how they might end. But even if they fail to topple the government, it looks possible they might lead to deep transformation. What is not clear is what that might mean.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
EXPLAINER: What's behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan
Intense protests have ripped through the oil-rich Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan
2:15AM ( 16 minutes ago )
Australia, Japan sign defense pact as China concerns loom
The leaders of Japan and Australia have signed a “landmark” defense agreement that allows closer cooperation between their militaries and stands as a rebuke to China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region
1:58AM ( 33 minutes ago )
A season of joy -- and caution -- kicks off in New Orleans
New Orleans residents are ushering in Carnival season, hoping the annual weekslong celebration can be held safely amid a surge of COVID-19 infections
1:07AM ( 1 hour ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Texas day care gets reprieve after drilling plan is rejected
Parents who send their children to a day care center in Arlington, Texas, will be able to breathe easier after the city refused to let a major energy company drill more gas wells a few hundred feet from the center’s playground
12:03AM ( 2 hours ago )
Xi'an hospital punished for refusing entry to pregnant woman
Hospital officials in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an have been punished after a pregnant woman miscarried after being refused entry, reportedly for not having current COVID-19 test results
11:52PM ( 2 hours ago )
Asian stocks follow Wall St lower after Fed rates signal
Asian stock markets have followed Wall Street lower after investors saw minutes from a Federal Reserve meeting as a sign the U.S. central bank might hike interest rates faster to cool inflation
10:22PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business
Russia-led alliance sending peacekeepers to Kazakhstan
A Russia-led military alliance says it will dispatch peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan after the country’s president asked for help in controlling protests that have escalated into violence, including the seizure and setting afire of some government buildings
5:28PM ( 9 hours ago )
Anticipation that Fed will raise rates sends stocks lower
Stocks closed lower on Wall Street Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting raised expectations that the central bank will move faster to raise interest rates to fight inflation
4:55PM ( 9 hours ago )
Fed officials see earlier rate hikes as US hiring recovers
Federal Reserve policymakers at a meeting last month said the U.S. job market was nearly at levels healthy enough that the central bank's low-interest rate policies were no longer needed
4:36PM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
More weakness in tech stocks pulls Wall Street mostly lower
More weakness in technology companies pulled most major stock indexes lower in afternoon trading on Wall Street
1:40PM ( 12 hours ago )
Report: Kazakh president's home ablaze as protests escalate
News reports say protesters in Kazakhstan’s largest city have stormed the presidential residence and the mayor’s office and set both buildings on fire
11:24AM ( 15 hours ago )
Reports: Protesters in Kazakhstan storm city mayor's office
Local news reports say demonstrators angered by rising fuel prices have stormed the mayor’s office in Kazakhstan’s largest city and attempted to break into the presidential residence
7:59AM ( 18 hours ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Australia, Japan sign defense pact as China concerns loom
The leaders of Japan and Australia have signed a “landmark” defense agreement that allows closer cooperation between their militaries and stands as a rebuke to China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region
1:58AM ( 33 minutes ago )
A season of joy -- and caution -- kicks off in New Orleans
New Orleans residents are ushering in Carnival season, hoping the annual weekslong celebration can be held safely amid a surge of COVID-19 infections
1:07AM ( 1 hour ago )
Roadies: Bogdanovic scores 36, Jazz beat Nuggets 115-109
Bojan Bogdanovic scored a season-high 36 points and the Utah Jazz stretched their road winning streak to 10 games by beating the Denver Nuggets 115-109
12:53AM ( 1 hour ago )
Spike in California virus cases hitting hospitals, schools
California is struggling to staff hospitals and classrooms as a spike in coronavirus infections hits the state
12:41AM ( 1 hour ago )
Huerter's late charge lifts Hawks over Kings 108-102
Kevin Huerter scored five of his 25 points in the final 38 seconds and the short-handed Atlanta Hawks held off the Sacramento Kings 108-102
12:37AM ( 1 hour ago )