Media reports say Kazakh police have detained more than three dozen people who were trying to gather in four Kazakh cities for anti-government protests that have been deemed by authorities as “illegal actions.”

A dozen people were reportedly arrested at a public square near the Astana Concert Hall in Nur-Sultan on October 26. 

The same day a would-be protesters being detained near Astana Square in the city of Almaty and several others were detained in the northern city of Aqtobe and the southern city of Shimkent.  

The demonstrators reportedly wanted to protest against the “expansion” of business ties between China and Kazakhstan through the creation of joint ventures.

They also called for the protection of ethnic Kazakhs being persecuted in China and the “release of political prisoners” in Kazakhstan. 

Protests on October 26 had reportedly been called by the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a political movement that has been banned by Kazakh authorities as an “extremist” group.

According to Radio Liberty, the Prosecutor-General’s Office in Kazakhstan warned on October 25 that anyone trying to part in the demonstrations would be arrested on charges of being involved in an “illegal action.”

China is a major investor in Kazakhstan’s energy sector and buys oil and gas from the mostly Muslim nation of 18 million, but critics accuse some Chinese companies - as well as Western ones - of hiring too few local staff and paying them less than foreign workers.

Also driven by anti-Chinese sentiment was a series of protests in 2016 against a planned land reform which its opponents said would have allowed foreigners to scoop up huge swathes of Kazakh farmland. The reform was shelved.