The interior ministry said 57 people had been detained
The interior ministry said 57 people had been detained AFP / Ruslan PRYANIKOV

Police detained dozens of protesters in Kazakhstan Saturday for rallying against Chinese economic expansion and former strongman president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is still a powerful force in the former Soviet nation.

An AFP correspondent saw around three dozen people apprehended by police and bundled into vans in the centre of Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city.

Kazakhstan's interior ministry said that 57 people had been detained in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, the national capital, for participating in unsanctioned protests.

"Despite repeated warnings from the prosecutor's office, some citizens succumbed to the provocative calls of a banned extremist organisation," the interior ministry said, referring to the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan organisation.

One man in Almaty criticised the government for favouring Chinese investment and trade over local production.

"They have turned us into a raw goods country!" he said.

After he finished speaking, police detained him.

In Nur-Sultan, a journalist for Radio Free Europe's Kazakh service, Saniya Toiken, was detained while attempting to cover the protests, Toiken told AFP after police released her.

Kazakh courts sentenced around 50 people to detention for up to 15 days ahead of the protest, according to civic groups monitoring the detentions.

DCK, which is led by long-time regime opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov, was ruled extremist by a Kazakh court last year.

Kazakhstan's state prosecutor said this week that Ablyazov -- a former energy minister and bank chief who fled the country in 2009 -- "misleads ordinary people" with calls to protest against the regime.

Kazakhstan's new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had earlier this month pledged to ease restrictive legislation on demonstrations.

Currently all protests are illegal in Kazakhstan unless permitted by authorities, although some small protests and one-person pickets have been ignored by police in recent weeks.

Tokayev, 66, became president after the shock resignation in March of long-ruling leader Nazarbayev, who proposed the loyalist's candidacy at a meeting of the ruling party that Nazarbayev still chairs.