Kazakhstan to liberalize rules on protests and political parties

Hundreds of people were detained at protests during and after the June presidential election, which Tokayev won with Nazarbayev’s backing. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 December 2019

Kazakhstan to liberalize rules on protests and political parties

  • President Tokayev established a National Council of Public Trust earlier
  • New provisions also state that the minimum number of people required to start a party will be halved to 20,000

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan will drop a requirement for public protests to be approved by authorities, make it easier to form political parties, and reduce punishments for hate speech and libel, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday.
The reform package would ease some of the most widely criticized restrictions on political freedoms in a country which has no real opposition parties in parliament and where government critics have often faced criminal charges.
Tokayev, who took over the former Soviet republic in March when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned after almost 30 years in power, announced his plans at a meeting of the National Council of Public Trust, an advisory body he established this year.
“We are making a serious step toward reforming the existing political system,” Tokayev said.
A new draft law on public rallies excludes provisions requiring official approval, which have effectively served as a blanket ban on protests.
Hundreds of people were detained at protests during and after the June presidential election, which Tokayev won with Nazarbayev’s backing. Dozens are also routinely held by police at smaller rallies.
In another move easing political restrictions, the minimum number of people required to start a party will be halved to 20,000, Tokayev said.
Tokayev also said offenses such as slander and libel would be removed from the criminal code and the article on hate speech would become more specific and less harsh. Both have often been used against opposition activists and government critics.
Kazakhstan’s parliament is dominated by the ruling Nur Otan party which Nazarbayev continues to lead while also remaining the head of the powerful security council and carrying the title of Yelbasy, or national leader. A parliamentary election is scheduled for 2021.


Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

The wreckage of the car where six French aid workers, their local guide and the driver were killed by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2020

Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

  • Attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group of aid workers as they drove through the giraffe reserve
  • France has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert

NIAMEY: French and Nigerien soldiers searched through a giraffe reserve and the surrounding area in Niger on Monday for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers, a French military source said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor also opened an investigation into the incident, in which attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group as it drove through the reserve located 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey — an area considered safe by the Niger government.
The French aid workers were employed by the charity ACTED. A local driver working for the relief group and a guide were also killed. ACTED called the murders “senseless and cowardly.”
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger,” said ACTED, which has worked to help vulnerable populations in the country since 2010.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against traveling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Daesh operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
In the clearest sign yet that France believes a militant group was behind the attack, the office of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said it was launching an investigation on suspicion of the involvement of a terrorist group.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief. “Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve southeast of Niamey is home to West Africa’s last sizeable population of giraffe in the wild. In the wet season, thick green acacia bushes dot the flat, sandy plains.
It is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power in the region, has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. The United States also has soldiers based in Niger.
Nonetheless, militant violence has been on the rise.