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RFE/RL (09.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/3egDBJW – Women from lower-income families are continuing to demand government assistance as coronavirus restrictions in the Central Asian state are eased.

 

Some 20 women on June 9 resumed their so-called “silent protest” after spending the night in front of the Ministry of Labor and Social Support.

 

The women were wearing sanitary masks marked with an “X” on them, which they said symbolized “the fact that we are not allowed to speak up.”

 

They also held posters saying: “Cheap mortgages for families in need,” “Financial support for each child,” “Amnesty for poor families’ bank credits,” and “We are on a hunger strike.”

 

Rallies and pickets by poor women have been held regularly in Nur-Sultan and other Kazakh cities since February 2019, after five children from a single family died in a fire at night when their parents were working.

 

The tragedy triggered anger across the country and demonstrations where protesters demanded increased government support for families that have several children.

 

The protests were held periodically until restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus were introduced in mid-March.

 

Dauren Babamuratov, an adviser to Nur-Sultan’s mayor, and Arman Qurbanov, a representative of the city’s health authorities, met with the women on June 9 and attempted to persuade them to leave the site, but the women refused.

 

Since the protests began last year, the government has announced a special program to support families with more than three children.

 

Initially, such families were provided with an additional monthly allowance of 21,000 tenges ($50) per child. However, the sum has since been cut twice. From January, the allowances were given only to families officially recognized as living in poverty.

 

The protesters are demanding a return of the benefits to initial levels, as well as for more benefits to be given to all families with more than three children.

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