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Kazakhstan government’s resignation fails to quell protests

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(Last Updated On: January 5, 2022)

Protesters stormed public buildings in Kazakhstan‘s biggest city on Wednesday as security forces struggled to impose control after the government resigned in response to popular anger over a fuel price increase.

An Instagram live stream by a Kazakh blogger showed a fire blazing in the mayor’s office in the city of Almaty, with gunshots audible nearby. Videos posted online also showed the nearby prosecutor’s office burning.

Protesters appeared to have broken through security forces’ cordons even though the latter deployed stun grenades whose explosions could be heard throughout the city center.

Kazakhstan is a tightly controlled former Soviet republic that cultivates an image of political stability, helping it attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted the government’s resignation on Wednesday, a day after police used tear gas and stun grenades to drive hundreds of protesters out of the main square in Almaty.

On Wednesday a Reuters correspondent saw thousands of protesters pressing ahead towards Almaty city center, some of them on a large truck, after security forces failed to disperse them with tear gas and flashbang grenades.

Atameken, Kazakhstan‘s business lobby group, said its members were reporting cases of attacks on banks, stores, and restaurants.

The city health department said 190 people had sought medical help, including 137 police. City authorities urged residents to stay home.

The interior ministry said that government buildings were also attacked in the southern cities of Shymkent and Taraz overnight, with 95 police wounded in clashes. Police have detained more than 200 people.

A video posted online showed police using a water cannon and stun grenades against protesters in front of the mayor’s office in Aktobe, the capital of another western province

The protests began after the government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas at the start of the year. Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG because of its low cost.

The government said the regulated price was causing losses for producers and needed to be liberalized. The president said it had botched the move.

Speaking to acting cabinet members, Tokayev ordered them and provincial governors to reinstate price controls on LPG, and broaden them to gasoline, diesel, and other “socially important” consumer goods.

He also ordered the government to develop a personal bankruptcy law and consider freezing utility prices and subsidizing rent payments for poor families.

He said the situation was improving in protest-hit cities and towns, including Almaty and the surrounding province, where the authorities declared a state of emergency.

In addition to replacing the prime minister, Tokayev also appointed a new first deputy head of the National Security Committee who replaced Samat Abish, a nephew of powerful ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, 81, a Soviet-era Communist Party boss, ran Kazakhstan for almost 30 years before resigning abruptly in 2019 and backing Tokayev as successor. Nazarbayev retains sweeping powers as the chairman of the security council; he has not convened the council or commented on this week’s violence.

The protests began in the oil-producing western province of Mangistau on Sunday, after LPG prices more than doubled following the lifting of caps.

A source familiar with the situation said some workers at Mangistaumunaigas, a Kazakh-Chinese oil-producing joint venture based in the Mangistau province, were on strike, although this was not affecting output so far.

Tokayev declared the emergency in Almaty and Mangistau and has said that domestic and foreign provocateurs were behind the violence.

Almaty mayor Bakytzhan Sagintayev said the situation in the city was under control and security forces were detaining “provocateurs and extremists”.

Kazakhstan‘s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds suffered sharp falls with the 2045 issue falling around 3 cents in the dollar and many dropping to levels last seen in 2020, Tradeweb data showed.

Like many emerging and developing economies, Kazakhstan has grappled with rising price pressures in recent years. Inflation was closing in on 9% year-on-year late last year – its highest level in more than five years – forcing the central bank to raise interest rates to 9.75%.

Some analysts said the protests – the most serious in the country in at least a decade – pointed to more deep-rooted issues.

“I think there is an underlying undercurrent of frustrations in Kazakhstan over the lack of democracy,” said Tim Ash, emerging market strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.

“Young, internet-savvy Kazakhs, especially in Almaty, likely want similar freedoms as Ukrainians, Georgians, Moldovans, Kyrgyz, and Armenians, who have also vented their frustrations over the years with authoritarian regimes.”

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U.N. chief calls on Burkina Faso coup leaders to lay down arms

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2022)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms” in Burkina Faso and calls on the coup leaders to lay down their weapons, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

Guterres also calls on the coup leaders “to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the president and of the institutions of Burkina Faso,” Dujarric said.

“Secretary-General is following developments in Burkina Faso with deep concern. He is particularly worried about the whereabouts and safety of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, as well as the worsening security situation, following the coup carried out on January 23 by sections of the armed forces. The Secretary-General strongly condemns any attempt to take over a government by the force of arms. He calls on the coup leaders to lay down their arms and to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the President and of the institutions of Burkina Faso. The Secretary-General calls on all actors to exercise restraint and opt for dialogue. The United Nations reiterates its full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order and reaffirms its support to the people of Burkina Faso in their efforts to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” said the spokesperson.

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also condemned the “coup attempt” in Burkina Faso, according to the statements they published respectively on Monday.

Burkina Faso‘s army announced Monday on state television that it had seized the state power, ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, suspended the Constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly, closed the borders, and imposed country-wide curfew from 21:00 on Monday.

The announcement, signed by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said that Kabore and others detained were in secure locations and no bloodshed or violence occurred during the takeover.

 

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EU ready for ‘never-seen-before’ sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 24, 2022)

The European Union is ready to impose “never-seen-before” economic sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Denmark said on Monday, and EU foreign ministers said they would send a unified warning to Moscow, Reuters reported.

East-West tensions have risen since Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s border, with Western countries fearing Moscow is preparing an invasion. Russia denies such plans.

Divergent interests in the 27-nation EU could hinder efforts to agree a joint position, and the EU is sidelined by direct Russia-U.S. talks, but ministers said it was essential to find unity.

“Knowing Russia’s tactics, I’m sure one of their aims is to splinter the West,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said as ministers gathered for regular talks in Brussels. “This is a victory we cannot afford to give to the Russians.”

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters: “There’s no doubt we are ready to react with comprehensive, never-seen-before sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again.”

He declined to say what sectors would be targeted.

“Russia should know, (President Vladimir) Putin should know that the price of using provocations and military forces to change borders in Europe will be very, very high… We are ready to undertake the most severe sanctions, also more severe than in 2014,” he said.

According to Reuters the EU, along with the United States, imposed economic sanctions on Moscow targeting its energy, banking and defence sectors after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

U.S. Senate Democrats have unveiled a bill to potentially punish Russian officials, military leaders and banking institutions. The EU says it is working with Washington on a sanctions package but has given no details.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged Europe and the United States to think carefully when considering sanctions, read the report.

Asked whether cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global messaging system should be an option, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Brussels the “hardest stick” may not always be the best way to deal with such a situation.

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Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said everything was on the table but also pointed to Austria’s dependency on Russia for 40% of its gas.

Asked about potential sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is yet to win regulatory approval, he said sanctioning something that is not yet operative was not a credible threat.

Blinken is expected to join the EU meeting online at around 1400 GMT.

The top U.S. and Russian diplomats made no major breakthrough at talks on Ukraine on Friday but agreed to keep talking.

“We are here to do everything we can so that war does not break out,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

For now, the EU does not plan to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after Washington announced such a move, Reuters reported.

The British Embassy in Ukraine said some of its staff and dependants were being withdrawn from Kyiv.

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First part of $200 million U.S. defence aid arrives in Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2022)

The first shipment of the United States’ $200 million security support package for Ukraine arrived in Kyiv, the U.S. Embassy said on Saturday, Reuters reported.

The delivery followed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv this week amid concerns from Kyiv and its Western allies over tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine. Russia denies planning a new military offensive.

Washington approved the $200 million package in December, Reuters reported.

“The United States will continue providing such assistance to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces in their ongoing effort to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression,” it said on Facebook.

Ukraine’s defence minister thanked the United States for the aid.

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