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Saturday 9 November 2019

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Opposition Demonstrates For Change In Kazakhstan
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NUR SULTAN/ALMATY -- Demonstrators gathered in two cities in Kazakhstan on November 9 to demand democratic reforms in the mineral-rich Central Asian nation.

Dozens of activists of Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan) rallied in Almaty, with some holding up banners saying, "I don’t need permission to speak," among others.

Police monitored the unsanctioned event but did not intervene.

In the capital, Nur Sultan, dozens of activists from the Respublika movement gathered at a central park for a sanctioned rally to call for democratic changes, including a parliamentary republic.

The rallies were the latest since Kazakhstan's longtime ruler, Nursultan Nazarbaev, abruptly resigned in March and named Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, the chairman of the parliament's upper chamber, the Senate, his successor.

Toqaev formally won election as president on June 9 in a vote that international observers said was marred by the "detention of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day [that] showed scant respect for democratic standards."

In its latest report on Kazakhstan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there was "no meaningful improvement to Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record in 2018."

HRW said authorities did not allow peaceful protests that criticized government policies.

Several hundred far-right activists clashed with police in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, as they tried to block the premiere of a critically acclaimed Swedish-Georgian gay-themed film which premiered amid a heavy police presence.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Amirani Cinema in the capital,Tbilisi, on November 8, chanting "Long live Georgia!" and "Shame!" before burning the rainbow flag while an Orthodox priest recited a prayer.

Some tried to force their way into the cinema but were held back by riot police that cordoned off the premises.

Protesters Clash With Police At Gay-Themed Film Premier In Tbilisi
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One young woman trying to go watch the movie was hit by a stone and taken away in an ambulance, local media reported.

Police said they arrested 12 people, one over the stone-throwing incident and 11 for trying to force their way into the cinema.

The movie, And Then We Danced -- Sweden's official Oscar submission in the best international feature film category -- is a love story about two male dancers in Georgia's national ballet ensemble.

The film has won worldwide critical acclaim but was denounced by Georgia's Orthodox Church as an "affront to traditional Georgian values."

The cinema let ticket holders inside for the evening premiere and then shut the doors.

Sandro Bregadze, a former junior minister in the ruling Georgian Dream party's government, said earlier this week that his nationalist Georgian March organization would not allow the film to be showed in Tbilisi, calling it "propaganda of sodomy."

"Some far right groups and the Church have basically condemned the film and are planning to stop people from entering the sold-out screenings," the film's director Levan Akin, a Swede with Georgian roots, wrote on his Facebook page earlier on November 8.

Georgia's Interior Ministry issued a statement, promising to ensure "the protection of public safety and order, as well as the freedom of self-expression."

The ministry said its units remain deployed with the purpose of protecting public safety and order.

Homosexuality was banned in Georgia after the country was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1921 and it is still highly stigmatized in the socially conservative Caucasus nation.

Homosexuality was only decriminalized in 2000, with anti-discrimination laws adopted in 2006.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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