Protesters in the oil-rich former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan burned the country's presidential residence Wednesday as protests that began earlier in the week continue to escalate, The Associated Press reports.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who took office in 2019, declared a two-week curfew, threatened "to act with maximum severity" against rioters, and called for "mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict." An internet blackout has also reportedly been implemented. Public protests are illegal in Kazakhstan unless authorized by the government.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Tokayev has also accepted the resignation of the cabinet led by Prime Minister Askar Mamin and installed an acting cabinet under Alikhan Smailov in its place.
On Saturday, the government announced a near-doubling of the price of liquified petroleum gas (LPG), which many Kazakhs use to fuel their cars, in the country's western Mangistau region. Protests erupted the next day and quickly spread throughout the country.
Tokayev announced late Tuesday that he was reimplementing the price controls on LPG, which hold the going rate to less than half the market price. It appears, though, that this was too little too late.
"[The protests] started for economic reasons … but they quickly took a political angle with people calling for free elections of local officials, calling for the ouster of top officials, the government," Radio Free Europe correspondent Bruce Pannier told Al Jazeera.
Protesters have reportedly chanted "Old man out," referring to former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, an authoritarian leader who ruled Kazakhstan from the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 until 2019 and continues to exercise influence behind the scenes. Tokayev is Nazarbayev's chosen successor, and the party Nazarbayev founded holds more than 80 percent of seats in the Kazakh parliament.
Human rights watchdog Freedom House rates Kazakhstan as "Not Free," assigning it scores of 5 out of 40 in the category of political rights and 18 out of 60 in civil liberties.
Update 3 p.m. ET: The Freedom House scores have been corrected.