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Kazakh Protesters Demand Debt Forgiveness Ahead Of Snap Presidential Poll

Protesters talk with a representative of the Nur-Otan party in Almaty on May 21.

ALMATY -- Dozens of Kazakh homeowners, mainly women, have demanded debt forgiveness and other state financial support for people with problematic mortgages, low-income families, and single mothers at a demonstration ahead of a snap presidential election next month.

The May 21 rally outside the offices of the ruling Nur-Otan party in the Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, was the latest signal of concern about economic hardships faced by citizens of the energy-rich nation, where authoritarian leader Nursultan Nazarbaev stepped down as president in March after three decades in power.

Nazarbaev, 78, remains chairman of Nur-Otan and is seeking to oversee a smooth transition of power to chosen successor, interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who is certain to win the early election set to be held on June 9 in the tightly controlled country.

Demonstrators said that due to inflation, debt owed by low-income families and by families that received mortgages in 2004-09, before the global financial crisis, should be forgiven in full.

Protesters also called for judicial reforms that would enhance the ability of citizens to protect their rights in court to be implemented before the election.

Nur-Otan representatives promised to bring the protesters' demands to the government's attention.

The rally came less than a week after dozens of women protested in Nur-Sultan, the capital formerly known as Astana, to call for increased social benefits.

Several protests over living conditions have been held in cities across the country since five children died when their home in the capital burned down in early February while their parents were out working overnight shifts to make ends meet.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, who tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights, and prolonged his power in the country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.

No vote held in Kazakhstan since independence in 1991 has been deemed free and democratic by international observers.

In addition to the chairmanship of Nur-Otan, Nazarbaev is lifetime chairman of the country's Security Council and holds the title of "elbasy," or leader of the nation.

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