Kazakhstan is taking stock after the worst social unrest in years erupted over the weekend, denting the country’s carefully cultivated image as a haven of stability.
Anti-government demonstrations are unusual in Kazakhstan, and this was the first significant bout of turmoil since late 2011, when an oil strike in the western town of Zhanaozen descended into violence that resulted in 15 protesters being shot dead by police.
Contentious land reforms are stoking the protest mood in Kazakhstan these days. Social media lit up on May 21 with images of masked riot police officers manhandling demonstrators in several cities across Kazakhstan as they attempted to voice dissatisfaction over the land reforms. On May 24, human rights campaigners in Almaty accused authorities of committing massive violations of civil liberties for arresting hundreds of people as they sought to exercise their right to peaceful protest.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.