NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh police detained eight protesters, mostly women, demanding the release of relatives they say are being illegally held in China.
The October 1 protests were the latest in a series of demonstrations in Kazakhstan linked to the massive detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic groups in the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Demonstrators have demanded Kazakh authorities do more to protect ethnic Kazakhs who have been caught up in the Chinese sweep. Kazakhstan’s government, however, has been wary of angering Beijing, which is a major investor in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia.
One of the protesters in the Kazakh capital on October 1 was wheelchair-user Khalida Aqytkhan, 65, who fell to the ground as police were forcing her into a vehicle.
The most recent wave of protests began September 20 when demonstrators traveled to Nur-Sultan from the country’s commercial capital, Almaty, where groups had rallied for months in front of the Chinese Consulate there.
As many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang's other indigenous, mostly Muslim, ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers in the western Chinese region, according to the U.S. State Department.
China denies that the facilities are internment camps but people who have fled the province say that thousands are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities known officially as reeducation camps.
After Kazakhstan gained independence following the Soviet collapse in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere resettled in Kazakhstan, as part of a state program.
Many obtained permanent residence or citizenship but continue to visit Xinjiang either to see relatives or for bureaucratic reasons. Some have reported facing pressure from Chinese authorities or even arrests and imprisonment
Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans.
China's largest ethnicity, the Han, is the second-largest ethnic group in Xinjiang.