Security forces blocked several downtown streets and cordoned off one of the squares in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty on Wednesday (19 January) as an opposition group planned to stage protests, a Reuters correspondent reported from the scene.
The oil-rich Central Asian nation was shaken this month by the worst bout of violence in its post-Soviet history during which at least 225 people were killed, most of them in Almaty.
On Wednesday, a group led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former Kazakh banker turned government critic in exile, said it would hold protests outside local government buildings in major cities throughout the country of 19 million.
A Kazakh court has ruled Ablyazov’s political movement, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, was extremist.
Police in Almaty said they were carrying out an “anti-terrorist operation”.
This is not the first time that Ablyazov tries remotely to spark protests in his country.
For many years, Ablyazov has been accused of embezzling $6 billion from BTA Bank (Bank Turan Alem) in Kazakhstan while serving as its chairman in 2005-2009. As of 2013, BTA was the third-largest lender in the country, but after being the subject of major financial fraud, the bank filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and has since been restructured.
Ablyazov had previously been considered a successful businessman and manager and served as minister of energy in 1998.
For many years, he lived sumptuously in London and is said to have paid millions to opposition NGOs and media to boost his profile. But in 2012, a British judge ordered Ablyazov imprisoned for purportedly lying in court about his financial assets. He then fled Britain and established himself in France.