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Kazakhs Rally To Mark 1986 Student 'Uprising'

Kazakh opposition leaders lay flowers in commemoration of the 1986 uprising in Almaty.

Kazakh opposition leaders lay flowers in commemoration of the 1986 uprising in Almaty.

ALMATY -- Hundreds of Kazakh opposition activists and nationalists gathered in Almaty's Republic Square today to mark the 23rd anniversary of mass student protests against Moscow, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Opposition Azat party leaders Bolat Abilov and Zharmakhan Tuyaqbai along with State Language movement leader Mukhtar Shakhanov laid flowers at the Independence Monument on the square.

Islamic prayers were also recited to commemorate the people who were killed and injured during the 1986 protests. Other protesters shouted pro-Kazakh slogans.

Police monitored the rally but did not intervene in the unauthorized demonstration.

The three-day demonstrations in Almaty 23 years ago were against the Kremlin's decision to replace then-Soviet Kazakhstan leader Dinmukhamed Kunaev with Russian Gennady Kolbin -- who had never worked in Kazakhstan.

They were the first mass anti-Moscow protests during Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's term in office.

Security forces violently ended the protests and an unknown number of people were killed and injured. Hundreds of other protesters were expelled from universities.

The Kazakh opposition blames current President Nursultan Nazarbaev for his strong support of Moscow's decision to replace Kunaev and to crack down on the student protests.

His pro-Kremlin support at the time led to his being promoted by Kolbin to the post of Kazakh prime minister. Nazarbaev replaced Kolbin in 1989.

Tuyaqbai, who was Kazakhstan's deputy prosecutor-general in 1986, apologized to all participants of those protests who attended the gathering today. He said many people in Kazakhstan did not realize exactly what was happening on Almaty's central square or the significance of the protests.

Tuyaqbai added that the so-called Almaty events of December 1986 should instead by officially called an "uprising." He also said that the so-called victims of the protests should be called "heroes" and not "victims."

The demonstrators at today's protest also read the text of a petition demanding that December 17 be marked as an official day of mourning in Kazakhstan before peacefully disbursing.