ASTANA -- Hundreds of angry mothers in Astana have demanded concrete measures by the city authorities following the deaths of five children from a single family in a house fire in the Kazakh capital.
The women gathered at an Astana concert hall on February 15 to call for proper housing, more places for children in public kindergartens, and increased social allowances for families with more than one child.
The five girls, aged from 3 months to 13 years, died in a fire on February 4 while both parents were away working overnight shifts. The incident shocked many in Kazakhstan, prompting protests and initiating a call to boost state support to families with more than one child so that both parents do not have to work to survive.
After the girls' funeral on February 5, mothers in Astana and several other cities held protest rallies.
The gathering on February 15 became tense when the city officials tried to talk to the mothers. The women demanded to see Astana Mayor Bakhyt Sultanov, but instead representatives of the city administration were sent.
When Deputy Mayor Nurlan Nurkenov tried to talk to the women, they shouted at him and demanded that he speak Kazakh rather than Russian. The protesters chanted that they wanted to see the mayor.
The microphones were switched off, and the women surrounded Nurkenov and his assistants shouting at them and not allowing them to speak.
Some of the women were then invited into the center's performance hall, where Sultanov appeared on the stage.
Sultanov spoke for eight minutes, saying that officials were looking into the situation faced by families with many children and that a special commission was collecting proposals from people on how to provide such families with better housing and increased social allowances.
But even before Sultanov finished speaking, the women began shouting, demanding "concrete answers" and requesting microphones so that they could speak as well.
Sultanov had to leave the stage.
The situation calmed down after former lawmaker and civil rights activist Zauresh Battalova appeared on the stage and called for order. The women then read out their demands.
The government has also been criticized for failing to declare a national day of mourning to commemorate the fire victims.
Emergency-service officials told RFE/RL earlier that the girls' father was employed by a car-repair company and the mother worked at a plant that produces payment cards.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.