About 200 protesters gathered Saturday in Almaty for an unsanctioned rally to oppose a draft law on land ownership that they said posed a threat to Kazakh sovereignty and national security.Rallies were planned in other cities, too, but many of the organizers abandoned the protests after authorities blocked permits to gather, citing COVID-19 risks.The Kazakh parliament’s lower chamber, the Mazhilis, earlier this month approved the first reading of a bill banning the purchase and rental of farmland by foreigners in the Central Asian nation ahead of the expiration of a moratorium on land sales this summer.The five-year moratorium was introduced in 2016 after thousands demonstrated in unprecedented rallies across the tightly controlled nation, protesting the government’s plan to attract foreign investment into the agriculture sector by opening up the market.Agriculture Minister Saparkhan Omarov said at a session of parliament on April 7 that current agreements on farmland rented by some foreign companies or joint ventures with foreign capital would expire in the 2022-25 period and would not be extended. The move came after President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev proposed the ban in late February.The protests stopped after the government withdrew the plan, but two men who organized the largest rally in the western city of Atyrau, Talghat Ayan and Maks Boqaev, were sentenced to five years in prison each after being found guilty of inciting social discord, knowingly spreading false information and violating the law on public assembly.

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