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Kazakhstan switches off internet as protests escalate, elites flee

Kazakhstan has imposed a “nation-scale” internet blackout as political unrest and protests over gas price increases escalated across the country – while a flurry of private jets appeared to have left the country.

The country had earlier seen intermittent mobile internet outages, seemingly designed to undermine communications between protestors, as President Tokayev, who was elected in 2019, dissolved the government.

“Network data from NetBlocks confirm a significant disruption to internet service in Kazakhstan from the evening of Tuesday 4 January 2022, progressing to a national communications blackout on Wednesday afternoon”, the non-profit global internet monitor said in a report on January 5, 2022/

The organisation added: “The initial incident had high impact to mobile services and some fixed-lines, while the blackout affects almost all connectivity. The disruptions come amid widening protests against sudden energy price rises that started on the weekend in the western town of Zhanaozen.”

The Kazakhstan internet shutdown came as the President of the Internet Association of Kazakhstan (IAK), Shavkat Sabirov, tweeted ominously at 9:24am (BST) on January 5: “The shooting began”.

When a government shuts down the internet in a country there are ways for people to stay connected: there are a range of peer-to-peer messaging apps out there that works with or without Internet access or cellular data to send text and images, using peer-to-peer Bluetooth and WiFi connections to create “mesh” networks. Typically however they have a short range. Satellite internet becomes a golden commodity in such times also.

(As Matthew Hodgson, CEO of encrypted messenger and Matrix host Element noted: “Decentralised services such as Matrix can work even if connectivity to the wider internet is firewalled or disrupted – letting users communicate by running their own servers, and in the near future running entirely peer-to-peer without the need for servers or internet at all.  The fact that centralised services such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp are immediately destroyed by a shutdown like this is further evidence that you should not put all your eggs in one basket, and instead use decentralised approaches for critical capabilities such as communication.”)

Numerous tweets appeared to show soldiers and police surrendering to protestors.

We could not immediately confirm their veracity.

The oil-rich country restored some price caps on LPG on Tuesday, after protests reached the capital amid fury at a rise in the price of the fuel at the start of the year. Many in the country have converted their vehicles to run on LPG, which is far cheaper than petrol as a vehicle fuel in Kazakhstan because of price caps.

Kazakhstan’s own oil production and potential has expanded rapidly over the past decade.

A $36.8 billion expansion of Kazakhstan’s premiere Tengiz oil field by Chevron-led Tengizchevroil saw some production start in 2021. Meanwhile, the super-giant Kashagan field finally launched production in October 2016 after years of delay and an estimated $55 billion in development costs.

Highly-controlled elections to Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament (Majlis) in 2019 produced a distribution of seats almost identical to the previous parliament, with ruling party Nur Otan — still under the chairmanship of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev — remaining firmly in charge, as Chatham House noted at the time.

The elections were the first since 80-year-old Nazarbayev yielded his position after nearly 30 years in power to his own hand-picked successor Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev. As Chatham House’s Annette Bohr noted at the time: “The chief instrument of control was the clear refusal by the authorities to allow a single genuine opposition party to contest the elections. Despite at least nine attempts since the 2016 parliamentary elections, no new parties have been registered, firmly shutting the opposition out of the political arena.”

See also: An entire top-level domain got knocked offline and nothing could be done because Arizona was asleep

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