To the untrained eye, the activity looked innocent enough. Patriotic Kazakhs marked a public holiday in March by displaying balloons of the same turquoise colour as the national flag.
The hitch was that Mukhtar Ablyazov, an exiled oligarch, had urged citizens to display turquoise balloons to demonstrate their support for his political movement, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK by its Russian acronym), which a Kazakh court had banned days before as “extremist”. It was unclear how many of the balloon-flaunters even knew about Mr Ablyazov’s call. But the police concluded that it was safest to haul them in for interrogation, just the same. After all, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 77-year-old strongman who has ruled this oil-rich Central Asian state for nearly three decades, tolerates no challenge, however trifling, to his autocratic rule.
Mr Ablyazov first angered Mr Nazarbayev in 2001 by founding a reform movement. He was soon jailed on corruption charges, then pardoned and released. In... Continue reading