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Kazakh Students Question Motives Behind Unexpected Vacation

Several students from various universities in Almaty says they were told by school authorities either to leave the city or stay away from its central squarte (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Students at major universities in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, say they have been abruptly told to go on vacation ahead of the former Soviet republic's Independence Day, which is celebrated on December 16.

Several students from various universities told RFE/RL that they were told by school authorities either to leave Almaty for their hometowns or, if they remained in Almaty, stay away from its central square from December 9 to December 19.

Students said those remaining in Almaty were urged to stay in their dorms and prepare for the exams scheduled for late December.

The students did not want their names published, fearing they could be punished.

They said no explanation was given for the sudden vacation, but some voiced suspicion that it was aimed at avoiding potential protests.

Independence Day this year coincides with the 30th anniversary of three days of protests by Kazakh youth against the Soviet government on December 16-19, 1986.

Those demonstrations, an early sign of unrest ahead of the breakup of the Soviet Union five years later, were violently dispersed by Soviet authorities.

December 16 is also the fifth anniversary of a crackdown on protesting oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen in 2011, when at least 16 people were killed by police.

Officials at several universities in Almaty told RFE/RL that the vacation had been announced in accordance with a schedule approved months ago.

No such vacations were announced at universities in other Kazakh cities.

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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.