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Kazakh government invites opponents to discuss land reform

by Reuters
Thursday, 12 May 2016 17:30 GMT

A group of Russian helicopters flies over the Kazakh steppe in this file phot. REUTERS/Dmitry Kostyukov/Pool

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President Nazarbayev's plans to privatise farmland have sparked rare public protests in the Central Asian nation

ALMATY, May 12 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's government, facing a wave of unrest over farmland privatisation plans, invited some opponents of the reform to join a commission set up on Thursday to review it.

Protests have taken place in several cities over the last three weeks, rare public displays of discontent in the Central Asian nation run by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since 1989.

Yielding to the protests, Nazarbayev last week put on hold the reform, which included plans to privatise large swathes of farmland and allow foreigners to lease it for up to 25 years instead of 10 years under the current regulations.

In another conciliatory move, the government on Thursday published a list of 75 people nominated to become members of a special commission set up to review the reform.

The list includes several government critics such as Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the leader of opposition Social-Democratic party, and activist Mukhtar Taizhan, an outspoken opponent of the land reform.

Taizhan was briefly detained by police last week ahead of a rally in Almaty which the authorities derailed by intercepting activists and blocking the city's main square. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but wrote on his Facebook page he would join the commission.

"I will defend the opinion that my brothers have expressed at the rallies in different cities over the last three weeks," Taizhan said.

Some other activists, however, still called for protests on May 21 in capital Astana and Almaty, the largest city.

The government's crackdown on the previous rallies drew condemnation on Thursday from several United Nations special rapporteurs on human rights.

"Arrests, detention and criminal prosecutions are being used to deter and punish those protesting and expressing their voices against the land law," the UN experts said in a statement.

"The government must immediately end all forms of persecution and take effective measures to protect civil society." (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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