ALMATY • Kazakhs protesting against the construction of Chinese factories held public rallies in three cities yesterday, demanding a ban on an initiative which the Central Asian nation's government hoped would bring investment and jobs.
Neighbouring China is one of the oil-rich former Soviet republic's biggest investors, but its broad presence and Beijing's move to "de-radicalise" ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang province have contributed to a growing anti-China sentiment.
The protests started on Sunday in the industrial town of Zhanaozen, with about 100 people demanding a ban on what they described as plans to move outdated and polluting Chinese plants to Kazakhstan.
On Monday, the crowd grew to more than 300 people, according to local newspaper Lada. Speaking to the protesters, regional governor Serikbai Trumov said there were no such plans - although the government has said it was discussing a number of investment projects with Chinese companies.
The rallies spread yesterday to include the capital, Nur-Sultan, and the country's biggest city, Almaty.
In Almaty, about 30 people gathered outside the mayor's office holding banners reading "No Chinese plants" and singing the national anthem. In Nur-Sultan, about two dozen people rallied at one of the central squares.
China is a major investor in Kazakhstan's energy sector and buys oil and gas from the mostly Muslim nation of 18 million, but critics accuse some Chinese firms - as well as Western ones - of hiring too few local staff and paying them less than foreign workers.
Beijing's "de-radicalisation" drive in Xinjiang, which human rights groups say has landed a million people, including ethnic Kazakhs, in camps, has also led to tension. Last March, Kazakhstan arrested a leading campaigner against the camps, charging him with hate speech. A local court set him free in a plea bargain last month.