Successor to longtime Kazakh ruler sworn in as president

Law enforcement officers detain a participant during an opposition rally held by critics of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who protest over his election in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday. — Reuters

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan — At least 100 people were arrested in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty on Wednesday, as the hand-picked successor to Kazakhstan's longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev was inaugurated following a snap election condemned by foreign monitors for "voting irregularities".

An AFP correspondent witnessed scores of arrests in a part of central Almaty where one of biggest protests in recent years took place during Sunday's vote.

The ballot resulted in Kassym-Jomart Tokayev becoming only the second elected president in the country's history.

Almaty, a city of over 1.5 million, had a ghostly feel on Wednesday as municipal authorities ordered businesses operating across several blocks in the city center to shut up shop while police beefed up their presence.

Nazarbayev's foreign-based nemesis Mukhtar Ablyazov had called for protests on Wednesday after police arrested 700 people on Sunday and Monday in both Almaty and the capital, which was recently renamed Nur-Sultan after Nazarbayev.

Police did not allow protesters to gather, however, and detained at least a hundred people in Almaty, some of whom protested their innocence as they were bundled into police vans.

Career diplomat Tokayev swept to victory with over 70 percent of the votes in Sunday's poll, cementing his emergence as president after 78-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled since Soviet times, stepped down in March.

During the inauguration in the capital Nur-Sultan, Tokayev, 66, pledged that "different opinions, united nation" would be a slogan of his presidency.

Speaking in both Kazakh and Russian during the ceremony, Tokayev said the result of Sunday's poll showed the people had "supported the strategy of Elbasy", which translates from Kazakh as 'Leader of the Nation' and refers to Nazarbayev's constitutionally designated status.

Nazarbayev, who turned the country of 18 million people into an energy powerhouse while governing with little tolerance for opposition, retains significant powers despite leaving the presidency.

Along with his role as 'Leader of the Nation', which affords him unique policy-making privileges, he is the lifelong chairman of the country's powerful security council and the leader of the ruling party that nominated Tokayev for the vote.

The interior ministry said that 500 citizens were arrested in protests called by Nazarbayev's foreign-based nemesis Mukhtar Ablyazov on Sunday, and a further 200 on Monday.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe(OSCE) said Monday the election had been characterised by "a lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day."

Hundreds had taken to the streets on Monday in a protest unrelated to those called by Ablyazov, after a popular Kazakh poet was detained for calling an unsanctioned rally demanding the election results to be cancelled.

Rinat Zaitov, who has a strong following on social media, was later released, but scores of protesters continued to roam the streets of the country's largest city Almaty late into the night.

Large police military vehicles later surrounded the protesters as elite police forces made arrests.

Tokayev has pledged to create a "dialogue with society" as president but there are doubts over what he can achieve as a long-serving insider in a regime strongly resistant to political reforms.

On Wednesday he pledged to create a "national council of public trust" to increase public participation in policy making.

He also pledged to "seriously refresh social policies" in comments that appear designed to head off the protest mood.

Public dissatisfaction with law enforcement has deepened since election day as internet users shared footage of elderly protesters being detained and some citizens unconnected to the protests being manhandled into a police van.

Several journalists, including two correspondents, were also detained on election day as part of a police response that Tokayev has publicly supported.

Dimash Alzhanov, a political scientist and campaigner for police reform who was detained twice before being released on Sunday and Monday, said on Wednesday that he doubted Tokayev's pledge to boost civil society and grow public trust.

"(Tokayev) is illegitimate because he was elected with major violations. Before talking about public trust he should institute serious political reforms that show the system's relationship to citizens is changing," Alzhanov said by telephone. — AFP