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Sharp Energy Price Hike Triggers Protests In Kazakhstan.

ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan -- Hundreds of people in the western Kazakh region of Mangystau have protested for a second straight day against a sudden, dramatic hike in prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) used in vehicles.

More than 1,000 people rallied in the town of Zhanaozen’s main square on January 3 after protesters spent the night there, complaining that the price increase will lead to knock-on effects to the prices of other daily commodities such as food.

Dozens of demonstrators also voiced anger in Aqtau, the regional administrative center, after spending the night in the open.

Smaller demonstrations were also held in villages in the Mangystau region, as well as in several cities and towns elsewhere in the Central Asian country in support of the protesters, including in the capital, Nur-Sultan, where at least three people were detained.

The price per liter of LNG jumped to 120 tenge (28 U.S. cents) at gas stations in Mangystau at the start of this year, compared with a price of 50-60 tenge (12-14 cents) in 2021.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev warned the protesters against violating the restrictive law on public gatherings, while the government said it would “implement a package of measures to regulate” LNG prices.

The owners of gas stations in the Mangystau region have agreed to reduce the gas price to 85-90 tenge (20-21 cents) per liter, the government said in a statement.

But Erlan Sargulov, who was among the protesters in Zhanaozen’s main square, said that was not enough.

“Let them reduce the price of gas by 50-60 tenge per liter, or increase our salary to 200,000 tenge ($460),” Sargulov said .

In Aqtau, around 30 people were standing at the city’s Yntymak Square, with dozens of police officers and special forces standing around it.

The protesters said they would continue their protest until the price of gas is reduced to 60 tenge.

An RFE/RL correspondent reported that the cost of taking a taxi from the airport to the city center had tripled to 3,000 tenge ($6.9).

"We run on gas, it's more expensive," the taxi driver explained.

Near Nur-Sultan’s monument to Khan Kenesary, police detained three people supporting the protesters in Mangystau. Officers also prevented an RFE/RL reporter from filming.

A small group of protesters gathered in front of the local government building were also forced into a police bus, according to video shared on social media .

In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, Republic Square and Astana Square were closed to the public and guarded by police officers.

One officer told RFE/RL that the squares were closed “in connection with the rally." He did not provide further details.

Toqaev tweeted overnight that "citizens have the right to make public demands to local and central authorities, but this must be done in accordance with the law, in particular the law on peaceful protests."

Human rights groups have said that Kazakhstan’s law on public gatherings contradicts international standards as it requires preliminary permission from authorities to hold rallies. It also envisions prosecution for organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies even though the nation’s constitution guarantees its citizens the right of free assembly.

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