Pitched battles involving Molotov cocktail-wielding protestors and police are a rare sight in Kazakhstan, which has enjoyed a remarkable degree of stability in the post-Soviet era. However, such a spasm of violence erupted recently in an Almaty suburb when authorities attempted to enforce a slum clearance plan. The incident underscores the problems associated with Kazakhstan's rapid economic growth and the widening gap between rich and poor.
Discontent among Almaty's poorer inhabitants has been brewing for months over the housing issue. Many believe greed is a major factor in the government's action, as the condemned structures are to be replaced by new housing developments. Some 500 homes in Almaty's Bakay area have already been destroyed, and portions of the Shanyrak District have been targeted for demolition.
In recent weeks, residents have mounted organized resistance to the slum clearance plan, which was authorized by a Kazakhstani court in February. Inhabitants say they have no clear way of redressing their complaints, or of appealing the judicial ruling.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asian affairs.