09ASTANA369, KAZAKHSTAN: OPPOSITION PROTEST FIZZLES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ASTANA369 2009-02-27 10:10 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO4744
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK
RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW
RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0369/01 0581010
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 271010Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4773
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1275
RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0660
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1363
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0355
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2177
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2505
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0836
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0752
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 000369 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KDEM KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  OPPOSITION PROTEST FIZZLES 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  The opposition Azat party organized an 
anti-government protest rally on Saturday, February 21 in Almaty, 
but it did not draw a large crowd, despite Azat's active efforts to 
publicize the event.  The protest's participants called for the 
resignation of Prime Minister Karim Masimov and his government for 
their "mismanagement of the economic crisis."  Azat's plan to hold 
similar rallies nation-wide did not materialize because the party 
was denied permits for public gatherings in every one of the 
capitals of Kazakhstan's twelve oblasts (regions).  The party 
reapplied to hold the rallies on Saturday, February 28, but 10 of 
the new requests have been denied, with two still pending permits. 
Azat's leadership plans to appeal the denials in court.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
AZAT'S ALMATY RALLY DRAWS FEW PARTICIPANTS 
 
3.  (SBU) On February 21, the opposition Azat party held a protest 
rally in Almaty to demand the resignation of the government over its 
handling of the economic crisis.  The turn-out was relatively low -- 
an estimated 300 to 500 people attended, in a city of perhaps 1.5 
million -- despite the fact that Azat publicized the protest widely 
in high-circulation opposition newspapers, including "Svoboda Slova" 
and "Taszhargan."  The attendees were primarily party activists, 
pensioners from the "Pokolenie" pensioners' movement, and 
"dolshiki," i.e., individuals who paid money upfront for apartments 
which have not been completed.  There was also a small group of 
young people from the Socialist Resistance movement, one of whom was 
waiving a Che Guevara flag. 
 
4.  (SBU) The speakers at the protest, which included Azat Chairman 
Bulat Abilov, Deputy Chairman Peter Svoik, "Pokolenie" leader Irina 
Savostina, and "Svoboda Slova" Editor-in-Chief Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, 
called for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Karim Masimov 
and his government.   They castigated the government for the recent 
devaluation of the national currency, the tenge, and for failing to 
cope with the global economic crisis.  The crisis is the result of 
government "incompetence and avarice," railed Abilov in his address. 
 "The sooner this government leaves, the sooner we will handle the 
economic crisis," announced Svoik.  The protesters' slogans were 
aimed solely at Masimov's government, with no criticisms levied 
against President Nazarbayev himself.  The rally ended with all the 
participants backing Azat's demand to "form a government of people's 
trust." 
 
REGIONS DENY PERMISSIONS FOR RALLIES 
 
5.  (SBU) Azat's original plan was to host rallies nation-wide at 
the same date and time.  However, the party's applications to host 
public gatherings in the capitals of every one of Kazakhstan's 12 
oblasts (regions) were all denied.  The reasons for the denials 
varied, but all cited previously-planned activities that conflicted 
with the rally, including commemorations of the 20th anniversary of 
the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, cultural events, and sports 
competitions.  The Azat leadership expressed some skepticism at what 
they called the "feeble reasons" provided and reapplied for rally 
permits for February 28.  To date, 10 of the 12 new applications 
have been denied, with regional administrations (akimats) again 
citing conflicting events.  On this occasion, the Taldykorgan akimat 
claimed that preparations were in full swing for Maslinitsa, the 
celebrations before Russian Orthodox lent.  The Kyzylorda region 
cited anti-flooding exercises, while the Aktobe authorities pointed 
to a hockey game.  Azat deputy head Marzhan Aspanduyarova told us 
that the party intends to appeal these refusals in court, going as 
far as the Supreme Court if necessary.  She had little doubt that 
the remaining two pending applications will also be denied. 
 
6.  (SBU) COMMENT:  Azat was expecting a much larger turnout in 
Almaty, and the authorities were apparently worried the party would 
succeed in bringing out a big crowd.  Azat actually applied for a 
permit for a gathering of 3,000 to 5,000 people.  The Procurator 
General's Office subsequently sent the party a letter reporting that 
 
ASTANA 00000369  002 OF 002 
 
 
it had taken notice of the extensive advertising for the protest, 
and warning that a deliberate attempt to deliver a larger turnout 
than requested in the permit constituted misrepresenta
tion to the 
authorities and could lead to "safety violations" that Azat's 
leadership would be held personally accountable for.  With growing 
economic problems in Kazakhstan -- including a teetering banking 
system, layoffs at some large enterprises, a 20 percent devaluation 
of the tenge, and anecdotal reports of consumer price hikes -- the 
time should have been ripe for a bigger protest in the one city 
where the opposition has a strong base of support.  And the protest 
was, in fact, widely publicized.  An Almaty taxi driver who picked 
up PolOff several hours after the protest was well aware of the 
event -- he railed against President Nazarbayev and the Kazakhstani 
elite for "robbing the country blind" and said that the protest 
leaders speak the truth.  That the protest fizzled could be the 
latest evidence of the weak appeal of the existing opposition 
parties and their limitations in mobilizing the public.  END 
COMMENT. 
 
HOAGLAND

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