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Police ‘arrest hundreds’ as Kazakhs elect new president

A woman waves a small Kazakh flag in front of police officers during an opposition rally in Nur-Sultan on June 9, 2019, the day of Kazakhstan’s presidential elections. (Photo by AFP)

Police in Kazakhstan have reportedly arrested hundreds of opposition protesters at presidential election polls in the Central Asian country.

The election, which was held following the departure of leader Nursultan Nazarbayev and to elect a new president in 30 years, was disrupted by big protests on Sunday, AFP reported, which cited its journalists on the ground as having witnessed hundreds of arrests.

Several foreign journalists were among the detainees in Kazakhstan’s two main cities Nur-Sultan and Almaty.

In the largest city of Almaty, two AFP journalists were among those detained by police. They were released later, however.

In Nur-Sultan, a journalist from Radio Free Europe was also held by police before being released.

The protests were called by foreign-based opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov in cities across the nation.

​Opposition supporters rally during Kazakhstan’s presidential election, in Nur-Sultan, the capital, on June 9, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Ablyazov, a former banker and a fierce critic of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, was convicted in absentia on fraud charges. The opposition figure lives in France and has used social media to incite unrest in Kazakhstan.

A court in the country ruled in March that Ablyazov’s political movement, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), was a radical group and its supporters could therefore face criminal prosecution.

Interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 66, is running for the ruling party with backing from Nazarbayev, who stepped down from the presidency in March.

Tokayev has expressed confidence that he will win the election and promised to take guidance from Nazarbayev on strategic matters.

Responding to concerns about potential police crackdowns on protests ahead of the vote, Tokayev said that he would be “building up a dialog with all those who support the government and those who are against the government.”

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