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Kazakh Police Detain Protesters In Several Cities During Norouz Celebrations

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Kazakh police officers detain an anti-government protester during a rally in Almaty on March 22.

ASTANA/ALMATY -- Police in the Kazakh capital, Astana, and in the cities of Almaty and Shymkent have detained dozens of people who protested the government's move to rename the Central Asian nation's capital after former President Nursultan Nazarbaev, just days after his surprise resignation.

The arrests took place on March 22 during celebrations of the Norouz holiday.

In Astana, police officers scuffled with several people who were holding a protest poster and then detained them and took them away.

Current Time correspondent Svetlana Glushkova was detained while covering the protest. She was held for three hours, then set free and immediately rearrested for five more hours before being released again. Current Time is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Meanwhile, a group of young men and women wearing traditional Norouz costumes surrounded RFE/RL correspondents in Astana, preventing them from covering the arrests, blocking the lenses of the journalists' cameras, and shouting: "It is Norouz! Report about us!"

They also tried to cover an RFE/RL's correspondent's camera with a newspaper, not allowing him to film the detentions.

Second Day Of Protests In Kazakhstan
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In Almaty, some young people also tried to prevent RFE/RL correspondents from covering the arrests of protesters.

Earlier, on March 21, police in Astana detained about 20 people who protested against a proposal to rename Astana as Nur-Sultan to honor Nazarbaev.

Scuffles And Arrests In Kazakhstan Over Capital Name Change
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Nazarbaev abruptly announced his resignation on March 19 after ruling the country for nearly 30 years.

However, he remains chairman for life of Kazakhstan's Security Council and chairman of the ruling Nur-Otan party.

The outgoing upper house chairman, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, was sworn in as interim president of the Central Asian country on March 20. He is to remain in office until an election that is due to be held in April 2020.

During the ceremony at a joint session of the parliament's chambers, Toqaev proposed that Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, be renamed Nursultan -- a request that was swiftly approved by parliament.

On March 21, the presidential press service clarified that the capital's new name will have a different spelling -- Nur-Sultan.

Toqaev also called for major streets in all towns and cities across Kazakhstan to be named after the 78-year-old Nazarbaev.

The March 22 rallies were organized online by the leader of the banned Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice (DVK) movement, Mukhtar Ablyazov, a vocal critic of Nazarbaev and his government, who lives in self-imposed exile in France.

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