People have taken to the streets in cities and town across Kazakhstan to press for democratic reforms.
Police were reported to have detained dozens of people at the rallies on February 28, nearly all of which were not officially sanctioned by authorities.
The ruling Nur Otan party has dominated the political scene in Kazakhstan for almost three decades while opposition movements, sidelined and with no seats in parliament, mostly make themselves heard through public protests.
Rallies were held in several cities including the capital, Nur-Sultan; Almaty, the country’s biggest city; as well as Atyrau, Aqtobe, Semey, Oral, and Shymkent.
Several hundred people gathered in Oral, which was the only demonstration permitted by authorities.
Elsewhere, police detained many who turned out. A Reuters correspondent reported seeing police detain at least 50 people near a park in central Almaty.
Dozens of people who rallied in another location in Almaty could be seen completely surrounded by police in black balaclavas and riot gear.
“Nazarbaev, go away,” chanted some protesters, referring to influential ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has retained sweeping powers after resigning almost two years ago and helped to ensure the election of a hand-picked successor.
The rallies were organized by two opposition groups, the Democratic Party and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, who said among their demands would be land reforms.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on February 25 proposed a ban on the purchase and renting of farmland by foreigners ahead of the expiration of a moratorium on land sales.
Toqaev said that “in order to stop rumors” he had ordered the drawing up of an outline of a law “banning the buying and renting of Kazakhstan’s farmlands by foreign persons and companies.”
“The land issue has always been very important for our nation. It is a fundamental and sacred symbol of our statehood…. I also ordered to form a commission on land reform by March 25,” Toqaev said.
The government’s moratorium on farmland sales to foreigners is set to expire later this year.
The five-year moratorium was introduced in 2016 after thousands demonstrated in unprecedented rallies across the tightly controlled Central Asian state, protesting the government’s plan to attract foreign investment into agriculture by opening up the farmland market.
The protests stopped after the government withdrew the plan, but two men who organized the largest rally in the western city of Atyrau, Talghat Ayan and Maks Boqaev, were sentenced to five years in prison each after being found guilty of inciting social discord, knowingly spreading false information, and violating the law on public assembly.
Ayan was released on parole in April 2018, and Boqaev was released earlier this month.