Dozens detained in rare Kazakhstan Independence Day protests

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ALMATY/NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) - Police detained dozens of people in Kazakhstan’s two main cities on Monday at rare protests demanding political reform and the sidelining of the family of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Groups of up to 100 anti-government protesters marked Independence Day with simultaneous demonstrations in the capital, Nur-Sultan, and in the commercial hub Almaty.

They chanted slogans such as “Wake up Kazakhstan!” and held banners that read “Kazakhstan without the Nazarbayevs” or “Parliamentary republic”. In both cities, protesters were able to rally at initial gathering points, but police then detained dozens of people who tried to march through the streets.

Nazarbayev, 79, handed over the presidency to a handpicked successor in March after nearly three decades in power dating to Soviet times. He still wields broad control, holding a number of official titles including chairman of the security council and leader of the ruling party.

Nazarbayev’s successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has said he would liberalize laws governing protests - which currently make any rally not explicitly sanctioned by the authorities illegal - but such changes have not yet been implemented.

Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva in Almaty and Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Peter Graff