Kazakh president moves to allow peaceful protests

Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for improved legislation to allow peaceful rallies. PHOTO: REUTERS

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (AFP) - Kazakhstan's president on Monday (Sept 2) called for an easing of restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, three months after thousands were detained at opposition protests in the authoritarian country.

Kazakh citizens currently need to obtain official permission to hold demonstrations, a legal stipulation that rights groups say gives the authorities a veto on the constitutional right to free assembly.

Speaking in Parliament, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for improved legislation to allow peaceful rallies.

"If (demonstrations are) peaceful actions that are not aimed at breaking the law and breaching the peace, then it is important to make concessions and give permission to hold demonstrations according to the law," he said in the speech, broadcast to the nation on television.

He added that special areas should be allocated for protests that are in city centres.

Mr Tokayev, 66, became president after the shock resignation in March of long-ruling leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Polls electing Mr Tokayev after Mr Nazarbayev picked him as his successor prompted the biggest wave of protests in three years in the ex-Soviet country.

In a possible sign of a softening of the official stance, police allowed small unauthorised protests to go ahead in three major cities over the weekend.

Dozens of demonstrators from an informal movement called "Wake Up Kazakhstan" held a march on Saturday calling for constitutional reforms in the country's largest city of Almaty.

However, several members of the movement reported harassment from the authorities ahead of the march.

Smaller demonstrations organised by the same group in the capital Nur-Sultan and the southern city of Shymkent also ended without detentions.

Many observers interpreted the softer approach as an attempt to weaken the appeal to the public of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan group, which is led from abroad by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive banker and former energy minister.

Mr Ablyazov's group called for rallies during June's presidential elections that confirmed Mr Tokayev as Mr Nazarbayev's successor.

Police arrested thousands of Kazakhs who attended.

Mr Ablyazov is a long-term nemesis of 79-year-old former president Nazarbayev, who is still believed to call the shots in the oil-rich Central Asian country of 18 million despite resigning the post he held for nearly three decades.

Mr Tokayev on Monday nominated Mr Nazarbayev's daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva for a second consecutive term as Speaker of the Upper House, a position that is constitutionally second in line to the head of state.

Mr Ablyazov has predicted Mr Tokayev will stand aside for 56-year-old Ms Nazarbayeva to assume the presidency while her elderly father is still alive.

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