Kazakh Women Call For More Social Benefits At Nur-Sultan Rally

NUR-SULTAN -- Dozens of women have rallied outside the venue of an international economic forum in Kazakhstan's capital to call for increased social benefits.

The protesters gathered in the center of Nur-Sultan on May 16 to urge the government to meet its promise of financially supporting families with many children and lower incomes, and of providing them with proper housing.

Labor and Social Protection Minister Berdybek Saparbaev and Nur-Sultan Mayor Bakhyt Sultanov met with the demonstrators and promised to meet their demands.

Protests across the country about living conditions for Kazakhs have been held for months after five children from one family died when their home in the capital burned down in early February.

The tragedy occurred while both parents were working overnight shifts to make ends meet.

The latest demonstration comes as the country is getting ready for early presidential election scheduled for June 9, after 78-year-old former President Nursultan Nazarbaev resigned in March following almost 30 years in power.

Nazarbaev and interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who is widely expected to win the upcoming election, are key speakers at the May 16 Astana Economic Forum in Nur-Sultan.

The annual event has been held since 2008 and hosts some 5,000 people from 100 countries.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, who tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights, and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.

No vote held in Kazakhstan since 1991 has been deemed free and democratic by international observers.

Nazarbaev's surprise resignation caught many observers off-guard. However, the fact he continues to lead the ruling party and will also keep his lifetime post as chairman of the influential Security Council, has led many experts to conclude that the resignation was a legal sleight-of-hand aimed at staying in power further.