NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh security officials detained dozens of opposition and civil-rights activists as demonstrators rallied in the country's two main cities, calling for increased rights and the release of political prisoners.
Police detained at least 50 protesters in the capital, Nur-Sultan, and around 40 demonstrators in the country's commercial capital, Almaty, on December 16, which is the country's Independence Day.
The protests coincided with two major anniversaries in modern Kazakh history: the 1986 anti-Soviet demonstrations in Almaty, and the 2011 deadly police crackdown against protesting oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen. At least 14 oil workers died in the crackdown.
The demonstrations were the latest effort by the country's beleaguered opposition to rally support and push back against the government, which has been dominated for decades by Nursultan Nazarbaev.
He resigned abruptly in March as president and picked Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as his replacement.
Toqaev then formally won election in June 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."
Nazarbaev continues to control social, economic, and political spheres by leading the country’s ruling Nur-Otan party and the influential Security Council.
In both Nur-Sultan and Almaty, police started detaining the demonstrators after they started marching from the sites where they rallied for several hours.
While rallying, protesters in Nur-Sultan held placards saying "Zhanaozen -- Zheltoqsan. We Will Never Forget, Never Forgive." The demonstrators also demanded December 16 to be marked as a day of mourning.
A representative of the city administration tried to persuade the protesters to leave the site, saying that the gathering had not been sanctioned by the authorities and therefore was illegal, but the crowd ignored his calls.
WATCH: Live-stream of the protests by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
In Almaty, protesters chanted, "Wake Up, Kazakhstan," "Kazakhstan Without Nazarbaev" and, "Old Man, Go Away!"
The demonstrators in Almaty demanded democratic reforms in the country, saying that local governors and judges must be elected, not appointed by the government.
Almaty officials also called on the demonstrators to stop the rallies because they were unsanctioned, but the protesters ignored them.
Early in the morning of December 16, about a dozen people, including journalists, were detained by police, while last week at least 20 activists in Nur-Sultan and Almaty were arrested and handed jail terms of up to 15 days on charges of not obeying police orders and holding unsanctioned rallies earlier this year.
The opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive tycoon and opposition politician, had announced plans to organize rallies in the two cities and elsewhere in Kazakhstan.
A court has banned the movement, branding it an extremist organization. The move was criticized by the European Parliament as politically motivated.
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.