Kazakhstan arrests protesters, websites down ahead of election

09 May 2019 / 23:56 H.

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN: Police arrested anti-regime protesters in Kazakhstan on Thursday ahead of next month’s presidential elections, amid numerous reports of popular news and social media sites being taken offline.

AFP correspondents witnessed six arrests in a central square in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty after calls for a protest at a WWII Victory Day parade.

The arrests come after dozens of people were detained last week for calling for a boycott of the June 9 election, which they say will extend decades of authoritarian rule.

France-based opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker and energy minister, had called for the protests.

Ablyazov is an outspoken adversary of strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, 78, who shocked the country in March by calling time on his presidency.

He is still seen as calling the shots in the oil-rich nation of 18 million people.

But he handed over power to loyalist former senate speaker and diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who is all but certain to win the election.

On Thursday internet users complained that many independent local news websites were inaccessible, as well as the Kazakh service of US government funded Radio Free Europe.

Others living in Almaty, a city of 1.5 million, complained that mobile internet services were not working.

Facebook, YouTube and Instagram were also offline.

Nazarbayev, whose reign began three decades ago when Kazakhstan was still a Soviet republic, has been regularly criticised by rights groups for stifling dissidents and the free press.

The country, an ally of Russia and China, has never held an election judged free or fair by Western election monitors.

Nazarbayev triumphed in the 2015 election with nearly 98% of the vote. — AFP

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