ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — Several hundred people rallied Tuesday near Kazakhstan’s presidential palace to urge the government to assist homeowners battling repossessions, and a few dozen were detained by police, meeting organizers and witnesses said.
The protest in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, was a rare large-scale show of public discontent in the tightly controlled former Soviet nation.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan’s fledgling bank sector was badly hit by the global financial crisis, leaving thousands of Kazakhs heavily in debt and in danger of losing their homes.
Kazakhstan is currently preparing for an April 3 vote in which 70-year-old incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to easily claim victory. Major opposition politicians have declined to take part in the election that they have described as a sham and anti-government activists are conducting a boycott campaign.
Homeowners’ rights movement leader Yesenbek Ukteshbayev said the aim of Tuesday’s protest was to deliver a petition with the demonstrators’ grievances directly to Nazarbayev.
“Authorities must not only serve the interests of the bank, they should also help individuals,” Ukteshbayev told The Associated Press by telephone.
According to witnesses, a column of police blocked the way to the presidential palace and some protesters unfurled banners, including one reading: “We need a president that thinks about the people.”
Ukteshbayev said the presidential administration had been given a week’s notice about the rally and that it should have made officials available to speak to protesters.
Respublika newspaper reporter Zhanna Baytelova said she was one of three journalists also detained by police. “They treated us extremely roughly and threw us into their bus,” Baytelova said.