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Kazakh Activists March For Democratic Changes As Police Stay On Sidelines

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Kazakh Youth Activists March For Reform
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WATCH: Kazakh Youth Activists March For Reform

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Dozens of activists of Kazakhstan's Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan) movement have marched in the Central Asian country's largest city, Almaty, demanding democratic reforms.

The activists' march across major streets in downtown Almaty on August 30, the country's Constitution Day, lasted for almost an hour and ended with a short rally near the building of Opera and Drama Theater.

Police were present at the rallies but refrained from interfering.

The activists held banners saying "Re-Constitution!" and "Parliamentary Republic," and chanted "Wake Up, Kazakhstan!" and "Down with the Authoritarian System!"

They also read aloud parts of Kazakhstan’s constitution about citizens' rights to assembly, freedom of speech, and expression.

In the southern city of Shymkent, about a dozen activists also rallied, challenging the current constitution, which they say has been illegally amended several times since 1993.

They were also holding placards demanding the immediate release of Mukhtar Dzhakishev, the former head of Kazakhstan's nuclear agency, Kazatomprom, who is serving a 14-year prison term for embezzlement, which he denies. Human rights groups in Kazakhstan have called Dzhakishev a political prisoner.

The rallies were the latest in series that has increased in frequency 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."

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