Protests across Kazakhstan over rising fuel prices forced the resignation of the government on Jan. 5 when the Central Asian nation’s president personally intervened in the crisis.
The news of the resignations comes after a state of emergency was declared in the Mangistau and Almaty regions until Jan. 22, after thousands of people demonstrated across Kazakhstan for a third day over the rising cost of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). A rally in Almaty drew at least 5,000 people, according to Al-Jazeera, which cited two AFP journalists, and protests around the country are growing.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had called on Jan. 4 for protesters to abstain from causing more unrest in both a televised address and via a social media thread on Twitter. He also announced that the government, “in order to ensure stability in the country,” had decided to reduce the price for LPG in the Mangistau region to 50 tenge (11 cents) per liter.
However, the unrest continued into Jan. 5 in Almaty, with demonstrators clashing with riot police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, according to Eurasianet.org—a Eurasian media group.
The protests, which started on Jan. 2 in the west of the country in the city of Zhanaozen and the Mangistau region, began in response to an increase in the price of fuel to 120 tenge (27 cents), from last year’s 60 tenge (14 cents).
Kazakh petroleum prices had previously been regulated and subsidized in the country. However, in 2019, the government decided to institute a move to an electronic pricing system with the goal to end the subsidizing for domestic LPG customers, and allowing the market to dictate prices instead. This means that the domestic trade in LPG now happens over online trading platforms, and in areas where LPG fuel is in high demand—such as the Mangistau region, where the government estimated that at least 70 percent of cars run on the fuel—there have been steep jumps in prices.
However, the Kazakh government denies that the new pricing system is to blame for fuel prices, and has instead pointed to retailers as the source of the steep price rise.
Energy Minister Magzum Mirzagaliyev said in a statement on Jan. 2 that there’s nothing wrong with the new system and that it’s the fault of gas stations, which he said had purchased LPG fuel for 78 tenge (18 cents) per liter but were setting the retail price between 100 to 120 tenge, at a 25 to 50 percent markup.
Mirzagaliyev said this was “higher than expected” and “gives us grounds to suspect possible price speculation among filling stations,” Eurasianet reported. He also said the price increases were due to increased demand for LPG, despite a stagnant output from the region’s gas company, and noted the national anti-monopoly agency is investigating.
However, his comments have done little to quell the discontent, with Kazakhs taking to social media to post videos of the protests around the country.