Kazakhstan elects new leader, as hundreds arrested in protests

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Police officers detain opposition supporters during a protest against presidential election, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, June 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Police officers detain an opposition supporter during a protest against presidential election, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, June 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Police officers detain an opposition supporter during a protest against presidential election, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, June 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 June 2019
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Kazakhstan elects new leader, as hundreds arrested in protests

  • The interior ministry said around 500 people were arrested on Sunday, with deputy minister Marat Kozhayev blaming “radical elements” for holding “unsanctioned” rallies

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan on Sunday elected the hand-picked successor of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev with 70 percent of the vote, exit polls showed, as police arrested hundreds of opposition protesters.
The victory of career diplomat Kassym Jomart-Tokayev was never in doubt after he received the blessing of powerful Nazarbayev, who had led the Central Asian nation for the last three decades.
Tokayev, 66, took just over 70 percent of the vote, according to the government-approved “Public Opinion” pollster. His nearest opposition rival Amirzhan Kosanov had around 15 percent.
But the day was marked by the biggest protests the Muslim-majority country has seen in three years, as demonstrators urged a “boycott” of what they said was a fixed election.
The build-up to the vote saw an intensifying crackdown on the opposition with courts sentencing protesters to short stays in jail and police raiding activists’ homes.
The interior ministry said around 500 people were arrested on Sunday, with deputy minister Marat Kozhayev blaming “radical elements” for holding “unsanctioned” rallies.
Two AFP journalists were among those detained in largest city Almaty, where police broke up a protest involving several hundred people.
Protesters shouted “shame, shame, shame!” and said “police come to the side of the people” as officers moved in on the crowd.
One AFP correspondent was taken to a police station before being released while another had video equipment confiscated.
Journalists for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and an independent local news site were also arrested, as was a representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee rights NGO. They were all later released.
Dimash Alzhanov, a noted civic activist and political analyst, was arrested and was still being held on Sunday evening.
Turnout in the election was around 77 percent, the Central Election Commission said earlier in the day.

Nazarbayev’s announcement in March that he was stepping down from the presidency and naming Toyakev interim leader shocked Kazakhs who had lived under his rule since Soviet times.
But the 78-year-old, who turned the country of 18 million people into an energy powerhouse while governing with little tolerance for opposition, is still expected to call the shots from behind the scenes.
As he voted, Tokayev told reporters in the capital Nur-Sultan that Nazarbayev was “still in power in the capacity of chairman of the security council... and other capacities.”
Marat Sagyndykov, a 65-year-old retired civil servant told AFP he had voted for Tokayev “in order to continue the course of the Leader of the Nation,” referring to Nazarbayev’s constitutionally designated status.
“I think in 30 years we have had some successes. There have been negatives, too, but they exist in all countries,” he said.
Aslan Sagutdinov, a video blogger who was detained last month for holding up a blank placard at a protest, told AFP in an email he was not taking part in the election.
“If you vote in unfair elections you are allowing them to say they are fair,” said Sagutdinov, who lives in the northwestern town of Uralsk.

Four years ago Nazarbayev scored nearly 98 percent of a virtually uncontested vote where the official turnout was 95 percent.
No Kazakh vote has ever been recognized as fully democratic by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent more than 300 observers to monitor this election.
One of Tokayev’s first acts as interim president was to propose that the capital Astana — which Nazarbayev transformed from a steppe town into a million-strong city — be renamed “Nur-Sultan” in honor of his mentor.
The change went ahead without public consultation.
There was only one candidate who was openly in opposition in the race, journalist Amirzhan Kosanov, who has criticized the government.
However, even his criticism was vague, rather than directly attacking either Tokayev or Nazarbayev.
Human Rights Watch called the prospect of a genuine political transition “an illusion” and noted the persistence of rights abuses under Tokayev’s interim presidency.
“Kazakh authorities routinely break up peaceful protests, forcibly round up participants... and sanction them with warnings, fines, and short-term imprisonment,” the watchdog said.


‘Fewer but newer’ nuclear arms in the world: report

Updated 16 min 49 sec ago
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‘Fewer but newer’ nuclear arms in the world: report

  • At the start of 2019, the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea had a total of some 13,865 nuclear weapons
  • That represents a decrease of 600 nuclear weapons compared to the start of 2018

STOCKHOLM: The overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has declined in the past year but nations are modernizing their arsenals, a report published Monday said.
At the start of 2019, the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea had a total of some 13,865 nuclear weapons, according to estimates in a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
That represents a decrease of 600 nuclear weapons compared to the start of 2018.
But at the same time all nuclear weapon-possessing countries are modernizing these arms — and China, India and Pakistan are also increasing the size of their arsenals.
“The world is seeing fewer but newer weapons,” Shannon Kile, director of the SIPRI Nuclear Arms Control Programme and one of the report’s authors, told AFP.
The drop in recent years can mainly be attributed to the US and Russia, whose combined arsenals still make up more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
This is in part due to the countries fulfilling their obligations under the New START treaty — which puts a cap on the number of deployed warheads and was signed by the US and Russia in 2010 — as well as getting rid of obsolete warheads from the Cold War era.
The START treaty is however due to expire in 2021, which Kile said was worrying since there are currently “no serious discussions underway about extending it.”
Next year the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) — considered the cornerstone of the world’s nuclear order — turns 50.
The number of nuclear arms has been drastically reduced since a peak in the mid-1980s when there were some 70,000 nuclear warheads in the world.
While Kile said progress should not be underestimated, he also noted a number of worrying trends, such as the build-up of nuclear arms on both sides of the border between India and Pakistan, and the danger of a conventional conflict escalating to a nuclear one.
There is also a more general trend toward an “increased salience” of nuclear weapons, where changing strategic doctrines, particularly in the US, are giving nuclear weapons an expanded role in both military operations and national security dialogue, Kile said.
“I think the trend is moving away from where we were five years ago, where the world’s nuclear weapons were being marginalized,” Kile said.
Former UN chief Ban Ki-moon recently urged nuclear powers to “get serious” about disarmament and warned there was a “very real risk” that decades of work on international arms control could collapse following the US pullout of the Iran nuclear deal, which he said sent the wrong signal to North Korea.
Global disarmament efforts also suffered a blow when the United States announced in February it would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, prompting Russia to say it would also suspend its participation.