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Kazakhstan tries to calm protests over energy prices

By AFP
04 January 2022   |   11:20 am
Kazakhstan's president on Tuesday tried to calm rare protests in the ex-Soviet country, sending officials to a western province where demonstrators have taken to the streets over a hike in energy prices.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends an informal annual summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) heads of state at the Konstantin Palace presidential residence in Strelna, outside Saint Petersburg, on December 28, 2021. (Photo by Yevgeny BIYATOV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Kazakhstan’s president on Tuesday tried to calm rare protests in the ex-Soviet country, sending officials to a western province where demonstrators have taken to the streets over a hike in energy prices.

Protests erupted over the weekend in the town of Zhanaozen in the oil-rich western Mangystau region, and have since spread to the regional hub of Aktau on the country’s Caspian Sea coast.

Demonstrators are angered by a rise in the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Twitter that a government commission, which includes members of his administration, had “begun work” in Aktau.

“The commission is instructed to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem that has arisen in the interests of the stability of our country,” Tokayev said.

“Law enforcement agencies have been instructed to ensure that public order is not violated. Demonstrators must show responsibility and willingness to dialogue,” he added.

Videos on social media showed police encircling protesters in Aktau on Monday evening.

Zhanaozen was the scene of the country’s deadliest unrest since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, when at least 14 striking oil workers were killed in 2011 as police crushed a protest over pay and working conditions.

The clashes sparked legal attacks on the opposition.

Tokayev took office in 2019, handpicked as a successor by the Central Asian country’s founding leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

But Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had who ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, retains control over the country as chairman of the security council and “Leader of the Nation” — a title that affords him unique policymaking privileges as well as immunity from prosecution.