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Kazakh Police Detain Journalists, Activists During Protests

  • VOA News

Riot police officers detain demonstrators during a protest against President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government and the land reform it has proposed, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, May 21, 2016.

Riot police officers detain demonstrators during a protest against President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government and the land reform it has proposed, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, May 21, 2016.

Kazakh police detained dozens of people while breaking up anti-government rallies being held in the country's major cities Saturday, prosecutors said.

Among those detained by security forces were dozens of journalists, activists and demonstrators, according to RFE/RL. Protests occurred in the capital, Astana, as well as in Almaty, Qaraghandy, Oral, Shymkent and the western city of Atyrau.

The opposition called for nationwide demonstrations against controversial changes to Kazakhstan's Land Code, which included allowing farmland to be sold and foreign investors to lease parcels of land for agricultural use for up to 25 years, RFE/RL reported.

Many of those detained, which included several journalists from Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh service, reported being released after a few hours in police custody.

Kazakh police later said that the arrests had been a "misunderstanding," Interfax news agency reported.

Some journalists said their video recordings and pictures had been erased by police while they were detained.

Investigating detentions

Kazakh Information and Communications Minister Dauren Abaev said Saturday that he would "work to find out why [the journalists] were detained," according to an RFE/RL report.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported its website was blocked but access to its Facebook and YouTube sites was restored later Saturday after offering only intermittent service since May 20.

Riot police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government and an unpopular land reform it has proposed, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, May 21, 2016.

Riot police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government and an unpopular land reform it has proposed, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, May 21, 2016.

Opponents of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been in power since 1989, had called for rallies in all major cities, extending a series of demonstrations that started last month over the proposed land reforms.

The protests, which have become an outlet for expressing general discontent with the government, are the oil-rich Central Asian nation's biggest for more than a decade and continued Saturday despite pre-emptive detentions of many activists and warnings from the authorities.

Nazarbaev’s government has used a combination of deadly force and restrictive legislation and arrests to clamp down on protests and other forms of dissent during his rule.

In 2011, a rare protest in the southwestern towns of Zhanaozen and Shetpe ended when police fatally shot at least 16 people during protests by oil workers and their supporters, RFE/RL reported.

RFE/RL contributed to this story. Some material for this report came from Reuters, AFP and Interfax.

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