Kazakh courts have detained or fined about 30 people ahead of a weekend protest called by a foreign-based opposition body, a civic group said Thursday.

The informal movement Oyan, Qazaqstan (“Wake Up, Kazakhstan”) said 24 people were sentenced to between two and 15 days in police detention, five had been fined and at least three people were awaiting trial.

Many of those sentenced had participated in small unsanctioned protests earlier this month against Chinese economic expansion, although activists believe the timing of the rulings is connected to a larger protest planned for the weekend.

Saturday’s protest has been called by foreign-based regime opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov, whose Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) movement was ruled extremist by a Kazakh court last year.

Kazakhstan’s state prosecutor said Thursday that Ablyazov “misleads ordinary people, deliberately turns them into offenders” and asked the public not to believe his online addresses.

“At the same time, he hides away in France, living on the money he had stolen in Kazakhstan and other countries,” the statement said.

Kazakhstan’s new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had earlier this month pledged to ease restrictive legislation on demonstrations.

Currently, all protests are illegal in Kazakhstan unless officially permitted by authorities, although some small protests and one-person pickets have been ignored by police in recent weeks.

Tokayev, 66, became president after the shock resignation in March of long-ruling leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who proposed the loyalist’s candidacy at a meeting of the ruling party.

Tokayev’s election on June 9 and inauguration on June 12 were met with protests where police made thousands of arrests.

Most of the protests during the election period were called by Ablyazov, a fugitive banker and long-time foe of the 79-year-old Nazarbayev, who is still believed to call the shots in the oil-rich Central Asian country.

Ablyazov, who also served as energy minister before fleeing the country in 2009 is wanted in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine on embezzlement charges that he has portrayed as politically motivated.

– AFP