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Kazakhstan arrests dozens in pre-vote protest

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By Agence France-Presse

Dozens of protesters opposed to Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime were arrested by police in the largest city Almaty on Wednesday after decrying a snap election critics liken to a succession plan.

At least 200 people gathered in Almaty’s central park to listen to activists who criticized the three-decade rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev and a June vote that his ally is expected to win.

Slogans shouted by protesters included “down with dictatorship”, “we have a choice” and “we are the power”.

Protesters also chanted slogans critical of Nazarbayev’s ally Kassym-Jomart Tokayev after the 65-year-old was nominated for the ballot by the ruling party last month.

Nazarbayev, 78, shocked the country in March by calling time on his presidency and allowing Tokayev to succeed him, initially on an interim basis.

Nazarbayev is still expected to call the shots in the oil-rich nation of 18 million people.

He is recognized by the constitution as “Leader of the Nation” and has retained key positions including chairmanship of the Nur Otan ruling party and the country’s powerful security council.

Kazakh police typically arrest protesters before they can gather to demonstrate but initially exercised restraint on Wednesday as a vocal and energetic crowd was swelled by passersby.

A senior city official said authorities would not detain anyone after he spent around an hour negotiating with demonstrators.

“Nobody is going to arrest anybody,” official Sultanbek Makezhanov told AFP.

But another AFP correspondent saw around fifty demonstrators bundled into police vans after they exited the park, which is a popular strolling spot for local families.

Several protesters expressed support for the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan group led by Nazarbayev’s self-exiled nemesis, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Tokayev, a 65-year-old former foreign minister has promised to continue Moscow ally Nazarbayev’s strategic course.

He also proposed renaming the country’s capital Nur-Sultan in Nazarbayev’s honor. The capital was previously called Astana.

Public gatherings in authoritarian Kazakhstan are illegal unless they receive permission from local authorities, which is almost never provided in the case of political demonstrations.

Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free or fair by Western election monitors.

Nazarbayev triumphed in the 2015 election with nearly 98 percent of the vote.

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