MOSCOW — Thousands of people returned to the streets across Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a fourth straight day of demonstrations driven by outrage over surging gas prices, in the biggest wave of protests to sweep the oil-rich country for decades.
Protesters stormed government buildings and captured police vehicles despite a strict state of emergency and government attempts to concede to their demands, including by dismissing the cabinet and announcing the possible dissolution of Parliament, which would result in new elections. Kazakhtelecom, the country’s largest telecommunications company, shut off internet access throughout the country on Wednesday afternoon.
Anger has been building since Sunday, when Kazakhs began protesting after the government lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas — frequently referred to by its initials, L.P.G. — and the cost of the fuel doubled.
Many people in the country of 19 million found the price increase particularly infuriating because Kazakhstan is an exporter of oil and gas. It added to the economic misery in a country where the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated severe income inequality.
according to the local statistics authority. Most people earn only a fraction of that amount, according to Mr. Umbetov, with the average skewed in favor of oil industry workers.
As the protests have unfolded, the demands of the demonstrators have expanded to include a broader political liberalization. Among the changes they seek is the direct election of Kazakhstan’s regional leaders by voters; in the current system, they are directly appointed by the president.
For almost 30 years, Kazakhstan was ruled by Mr. Nazarbayev, a former Communist Party boss, who is now 81.