ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Opposition activists in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, have marked the Central Asian nation's Independence Day with an unsanctioned rally.
The Independence Day marked on December 16 coincides with the two major anniversaries in modern Kazakh history: the 1986 Kazakh youth anti-Kremlin demonstrations in Almaty, known as the Zheltoqsan revolt, and the deadly 2011 police crackdown against protesting oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen. At least 14 oil workers died in the crackdown.
Hundreds of activists belonging to the Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan) movement and the unregistered opposition Democratic Party, as well as ordinary Almaty residents and rights defenders, gathered in the city's central Square of the Republic, on December 16.
Participants commemorated the victims of Zheltoqsan and Zhanaozen and chanted slogans demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners, fair parliamentary elections on January 10, and the registration of opposition parties.
Police surrounded the demonstrators, dividing them into smaller groups and not allowing them to march across the city.
The activists held posters saying, "Never forget 1986 and 2011," "Lives taken on December 16, votes to be taken on January 10," and "Kazakhstan needs an upgrade!"
The leader of the Democratic Party, Zhanbolat Mamai, said at the gathering that individuals responsible for deaths in 1986 and 2011 must face justice.
"Those who gave the orders to open fire at peaceful demonstrators in Zhanaozen must be put behind bars. What kind of a country are we if we forget the victims of December 1986 and 2011?" Mamai told the gathering.
Smaller gatherings to commemorate victims of Zhanaozen and Zheltoqsan were held on December 16 in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, and in other towns and cities.