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Land Issue Mars Unity On Kazakhstan's National Unity Day

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev speaks as he attends celebrations on May 1 to mark Kazakhstan People's Unity Day in Almaty, an event that was marked by several protests despite bans on unsanctioned rallies.

Demonstrations in Kazakhstan spread over the weekend when events that were intended to be celebrations of National Unity Day instead turned into protests against the planned privatization of land in the country.

Despite prohibitions against unsanctioned rallies, since April 24 Kazakhstan has seen demonstrations against the proposed privatization of land in the major cities of the east (Astana and Almaty ), in oil towns in the west (Atyrau and Aktau), in towns in the north (Aktobe and Semey), and in the south (Shymkent).

But on National Unity Day, May 1, there were also demonstrations in Zhanaozen, the scene of a violent protest on Kazakhstan's Independence Day in 2011 that left 17 people dead, and in Kyzylorda, an agricultural region in south-central Kazakhstan.

Videos of the demonstration in Zhanaozen showed some heated exchanges between demonstrators and local officials, although aside from that the protest was peaceful. Footage posted on the Internet of the demonstration in Kyzylorda, however, showed police there forcibly dispersing protesters.

A video on the website of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, shows Kyzylorda Province Governor Serik Kozhaniyazov addressing a group of several dozen demonstrators inside a theater.

WATCH: Kazakh Protests Spread

Kazakh Protests Spread As President Warns of Social Unrest
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But a video posted on YouTube shows a group of young men who appeared to be taunting a line of police in riot gear. Police finally charge at the group and people scatter in different directions. No shots were fired, but the images are similar to those seen during the 2011 fiasco in Zhanaozen.

WATCH: Police Clash With Protesters In Zhanaozen

Some people in Kazakhstan are concerned that the planned privatization of land will lead to either the country's elite buying up the prime property, or worse, China will opt to lease land for 25 years, the maximum allowed to foreigners under Kazakhstan's legislation. China already requested permission to lease up to 1 million hectares of farmland from Kazakhstan in 2009 and send Chinese farmers to tend the land.

Some of the people who spoke to Azattyq said they were not against the sale or even the leasing of land to foreigners, in principle. But these people, especially the younger individuals, questioned whether it should be done now, noting the country's leadership -- specifically 75-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- will not be around in 25 years, so privatization should wait until a new leader comes to power.

Based on material from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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