Kazakh leader delays land reform, yielding to protests

Reuters News
Posted: May 05, 2016 9:31 AM

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Thursday he would delay a planned land reform which triggered a wave of public protests across the Central Asian nation.

"If our people do not understand and trust the decisions that have been taken, then it is not right (to press ahead with them)," Nazarbayev told a government meeting, according to a video posted by his press service on Facebook.

Nazarbayev criticized the government for failing to explain the reform to the public adequately. Economy Minister Yerbolat Dosayev tendered his resignation the same day, a spokeswoman for the ministry said.

The protests were sparked by fears that reforms will allow foreigners - especially Chinese companies - to take over farmland, although some analysts say many Kazakhs have attended the demonstrations to express their general discontent.

The rallies which have taken place in several major cities over the last two weeks were relatively small. But even hundreds-strong protests are rare in the former Soviet republic which Nazarbayev tightly controls.

Opponents of the land reform had announced plans for more protests, challenging Nazarbayev, 75, who has run the oil-rich Central Asian nation since 1989, tolerating little dissent.

A legal overhaul which was due to take effect on July 1 would have allowed the government to sell farmland to joint ventures, provided they are controlled by Kazakh residents, and lease it to foreigners for up to 25 years. The current law only allows leases for up to 10 years.

On Thursday, Nazarbayev said the changes would not take effect until the end of this year and would be shelved again if they failed to win public support.

(Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov and Richard Bazlmforth)