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Police break up land reform protests in Kazakhstan

Riot police officers detain demonstrators during a protest against government’s land reform plans in Almaty, Kazakhstan, May 21, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Police in Kazakhstan broke up protests Saturday for holding demonstrations over a controversial government plan for land reforms.

The Kazakh prosecutor's office said police arrested dozens of protesters in various cities.

The demonstrations were held against a government move to liberalize the sale and rental of farmland to foreigners. Opponents fear the move could enable Chinese farmers to acquire large swaths of land in Kazakhstan.

Witnesses said police, some in full riot gear, blocked about 100 protesters gathering at one police checkpoint from accessing Almaty's main square. Another group tried to enter the square at other points, some sang the national anthem. They said police officers chased protesters down the street, detaining them one-by-one and putting them into buses.

In the capital, Astana, several journalists and protesters were also detained. Security forces cordoned off the site of a planned protest. Igor Lepekha, a Kazakh Interior Ministry official, confirmed that there were detentions at an attempted demonstration in the city. Similar reports of arrests emerged from Kostanai in northern Kazakhstan.

Authorities had warned that Saturday demonstrations were unsanctioned and that they would clamp down on any sign of provocation. Earlier this week, police and courts began arresting dozens of activists in several cities who had planned to take part in Saturday's protests.

“Law enforcement bodies are obliged to prevent any violations and immediately take the necessary legal measures including criminal prosecution,” Prosecutor General Zhakip Asanov said in a statement on Friday.

The planned demonstrations were the extension of a series of protests that started last month, with opponents calling on President Nursultan Nazarbayev to revise land reform plans. Many have interpreted the protests as a broad display of discontent with the Nazarbayev administration. He has been in office since 1989.

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