Protests rock Kazakhstan over land-grabbing

Hundreds have been detained in protests across Kazakhstan over a new government policy to privatize farmlands and open the agricultural sector to foreign capital. The protest campaign began in early May, when the government announced the new policy, with large demonstrations reported in Astana, Almaty, Karagandy and other cities. City squares have been repeatedly occupied in defiance of an official ban on public gatherings. The crackdown has extended to the media, with several journalists arrested. But video footage posted to YouTube shows police in Kyzylorda charging unarmed demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the massacre of striking oil-workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.

The changes to the Land Code ostensibly extend the existing 10-year agricultural lease to 25 years, but opponents say this amounts to a de facto privatization. The change comes with a number of new incentives meant to draw international investment. Chinese companies are in talks to invest some $2 billion in agricultural projects across Kazakhstan in an expansion of Beijing's "Silk Road" initiative. (RFE/RL, RFE/RL, June 3; EurasiaNet, June 1; EurasiaNet, May 30; Campaign Kazakhstan, May 27; CWI Russia via, May 24; Transitions Online, May 23; Al Jazeera, May 21; The Diplomat, May 19; FT, May 9)