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Smoke rises from the city hall building during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Almaty, Kazakhstan: Protesters stormed the mayor’s office in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty on Wednesday as unprecedented unrest in the Central Asian nation spun out of control.

Sparked by a New Year energy price increase, protests swept across Kazakhstan in a rare challenge to the ex-Soviet country’s authoritarian government.

After a night of unrest that saw more than 200 people detained, several thousand protesters stormed the headquarters of the Almaty city administration on Wednesday afternoon and appeared to have seized control of the building.

Police fired stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd, some armed with batons and shields seized from police, but were unable to prevent them from entering the building, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Local media reported that parts of the building were on fire and that protesters were targeting other government facilities.

The demonstrations began over a New Year increase in prices for Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is widely used to fuel cars in the west of the country.

Government resigns

Thousands took to the streets in Almaty and in the western province of Mangystau, saying the price rise was unfair given oil and gas exporter Kazakhstan’s vast energy reserves.

Clashes erupted overnight in Almaty, with police firing stun grenades and tear gas into a crowd of more than 5,000 people that marched through central streets shouting anti-government slogans and sometimes attacking vehicles.

The interior ministry said 95 police officers were injured, adding protesters “succumbed to provocations” and “groups of citizens blocked roads and blocked traffic, disrupting public order”.

The cabinet headed by Prime Minister Askar Mamin earlier resigned.

States of emergency was imposed in the capital Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and Mangystau province from January 5 until January 19.

An overnight curfew will be in place in the areas from 11pm to 7am, with restrictions on movement in and out.

Protests in the capital were smaller and sporadic, but an order published on the presidential website said the state of emergency was necessary “in connection with a serious and immediate threat to the safety of citizens”.