Kazana leader takes softer line after protests

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Kazana leader takes softer line after protests

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who said he had ordered troops to kill without warning, has taken a softer line this week and promised genuine reform after he was forced to take a softer line at the height of unrest last week.

Many people have expressed scepticism, with thousands still in detention and a behind-the-scenes power struggle still not fully resolved.

People who have done serious crimes will be punished in accordance with the law, Tokayev wrote on Friday. I ask the prosecutor to determine their level of guilt, and if there are no aggravating circumstances, to soften their punishment. More than 10,000 people have been detained during the past two weeks. At the height of the protests, Tokayev said 20,000 terrorists had attacked Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, but these numbers seem to have been revised quietly.

On Thursday, the prosecutor's office said 494 criminal cases had been opened, including 44 for terrorism. Most of those detained were facing administrative charges with a maximum of 15 days in jail.

Journalists and rights activists say there is little transparency about the criminal charges and there is no reliable figure for the number of people who died in the violence. An earlier figure of 164, published by a government-linked source, was later retracted.

The protests began in the west of the country over a rise in fuel prices, and where events remained largely peaceful, police rounded up hundreds of people involved in the demonstrations.

According to Max Bokay, a long-standing rights activist in the western city of Atyrau, more than 500 people have been detained in the region, often by police who came to their homes after Tokayev implemented a state of emergency last week. He only knew of one case where criminal charges had been launched, but he said people detained on administrative charges had spoken of intimidation and beatings.

Bokay, who was arrested at a 2016 protest and spent five years in jail before being released last year, said he had not been detained during the days of protest, although he had been roughed up by a group of men on the street. He said on Friday that it was an intimidation tactic and just today there were people kicking my apartment door, probably because today I had a one-person protest against torture in jails.

The protests, over economic and political demands, were apparently hijacked by an intra-elite battle between Tokayev and figures close to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country's president from its founding in 1991 to 2019, when he handpicked Tokayev as his successor.

Karim Masimov, head of the KNB security services and former prime minister under Nazarbayev, has been arrested on treason charges and accused of trying to seize power, along with two of his deputies. He has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.

A former minister and Nazarbayev adviser, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev blamed reactionary and conservative forces from the Nazarbayev clan for stoking the unrest. He said that negotiations are ongoing and there is a search for a compromise.

At the height of the protests when Tokayev shaky grip appeared on Kazakhstan, he called for a Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, to intervene. More than 2,000 mostly Russian troops arrived in the Russian position, which helped shore up Tokayev's position and have already begun their departure.

Observers say the mission, while brief, has put Tokayev in Vladimir Putin's debt and placed Kazakhstan more firmly in Moscow's orbit. Putin has described the unrest as a coloured revolution backed by nefarious forces in the west, leading many people to fear a crackdown on what remains of the Kazakh civil society.

Tokayev accused the independent media of helping fan the protests.

"We were very disappointed to hear those words," said Vyacheslav Abramov, editor-in-chief of the news portal Vlast.kz. It is very clear that it is not the media, it is not the civil society who is responsible for the crisis it is the people in power. So far, Tokayev has not acted against media outlets and has announced a series of measures aimed at winning popular support, including setting up a new fund for the public good, to which oligarchs and wealthy businessman will have to contribute.

Abramov said there were now three possible scenarios: the first is that we have a massive crackdown like in Belarus, the second is that we go back to where we were before the crisis, and the third is that we are going towards real reforms. He added that the third option seemed the least likely.