Kazakh police detain dozens on independence day

Police officers detain opposition supporters during a rally on Independence Day in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. (Reuters Photo)

Police in Kazakhstan detained dozens of people after unsanctioned anti-government protests to mark the country's Independence Day, media and activists said on Monday.

Rallies had called for the ouster of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who critics believe still to holds power in the ex-Soviet country despite retiring from office in March.

Independent media outlet Vlast.kz reported that around 40 people were detained after the protests broke up.

One activist, who was held by police for two hours, told AFP that she had heard of more than 30 detentions.

"We overheard police say that 16 people were detained (in one part of the city) and 15 (in another). Probably there were many more," said Aizat Abilseitova, an activist of the Oyan Qazaqstan (Wake Up Kazakhstan) rights group.

Assem Zhapisheva, another member of the group, told AFP that four participants in the Oyan rally were detained but later released.

The majority of the detained are believed to have participated in the rally called by Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a group ruled as an extremist movement by a court last year.

Some who attended the DCK rally also spoke out against Chinese investment and what they called Beijing's persecution of ethnic Kazakhs in its western Xinjiang region.

More than 20 activists were sentenced to detentions of up to 15 days in the buildup to the protest, according to the Qaharman rights movement.

Kazakhstan's regime has long faced criticism from rights groups over its hardline approach to dissent and stifling restrictions on freedom of assembly.

December 16 is Independence Day in Kazakhstan as well as the anniversary of two demonstrations -- in 1986 and 2011 -- that were brutally put down.

The 1986 uprising against Moscow's decision to replace a popular local communist party secretary with an outsider from Soviet Russia was one of several jolts to shake the Soviet system during its final years.

Estimates of deaths from the ensuing crackdown range from the official figure of two to more than a hundred.

In 2011, at least 14 striking oil workers were killed on the same date as police crushed a protest over pay and working conditions in the western town of Zhanaozen.

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