By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Hundreds of people have gathered in the center of Aqtau, the capital of Kazakhstan’s western province of Manghystau, to support striking oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen, where on December 16 at least 13 people were killed and at least 86 were wounded in violent clashes between the workers and police.
RFE/RL’s correspondent reports from Aqtau that police with rubber truncheons, shields, and guns monitored the people gathered on the central square (see video here).
Meanwhile, the Kazakh Prosecutor-General’s Office announced on December 18 that “hooligans” clashed the previous day with police at the Shetpe railway station in the Manghystau region.
According to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, one 25-year-old man was killed and about a dozen people were wounded in that clash.
A local man, who gave his name only as Bauyrzhan, told RFE/RL by phone on December 17 that dozens of local people blocked the Mangyshlaq-Aqtobe railway at the Shetpe station, protesting the shooting of demonstrators in Zhanaozen. At around 6 p.m. on December 17, security forces arrived at the Shetpe station to disperse the protesters, and at around 8 p.m. the clashes took place.
“The protesters blocking the railway refused to leave the area and the clashes started. I am now in the hospital. One 25-year-old young man was shot in the head and died. Eight men were wounded and the number of the wounded is increasing,” Bauyrzhan said.
The deputy chief of the Manghystau regional clinic in Aqtau, Nurlan Muqanov, told RFE/RL on December 18 that in total, 38 patients with gunshot wounds had been brought to his hospital since the unrest started on December 16.
One of the hospitalized individuals died from his wounds. Muqanov refused to give more details regarding the man who died. According to Muqanov, three of those hospitalized are from Shetpe station, others are from Zhanaozen.
Zhanaozen Cut Off
Journalists who arrived in the regional capital, Aqtau, on December 18 were not allowed to travel to Zhanaozen, where additional security troops and armored vehicles were sent on December 16-17.
Telephone connections with Zhanaozen, including by mobile phone, have been cut off since December 16.
RFE/RL’s correspondent reported from Shetpe that a group of domestic and international journalists was stopped by security forces and riot-police units upon their arrival at the railway station. He said that a Kazakh blogger, Murat Tungyshbaev, was beaten up by security forces without any explanation.
Kazis Toguzbaev said Tungyshbaev was knocked down, and the riot police “put a pistol to his temple, to his head. But other journalists interfered and it’s possible to say that they have freed him.”
Telephone connection with Shetpe has been disrupted since Toguzbaev’s report and it wasn’t possible to get more information regarding the current situation there.
Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor-General’s Office has announced that the situation is under control in Shetpe.
State Of Emergency
On December 17, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree imposing a state of emergency and a curfew in Zhanaozen. In a statement, Nazarbaev accused “hooligans” of organizing mass disorder and said police had to open fire “to protect themselves and local citizens and preserve order.”
The clashes in Zhanaozen on December 16 started after the town authorities began celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence on the central square, where oil workers have been protesting since May to demand a salary raise, equal rights with foreign workers, and the right of independent labor unions to organize in the region.
The angry protesters set fire to a concert stage and the New Year’s tree on Zhanaozen’s central square. Also, buildings of the town administration, a hotel, and the offices of the OzenMunaiGaz oil company were burned down.
Nazarbaev’s decree imposes the security measures from December 17 to January 5. The presidential decree was accompanied by an official announcement that the situation in Zhanaozen was fully under control.
Kazakh opposition leaders and activists have demanded an independent investigation into the situation. Opposition leader and former Senator Zauresh Battalova told journalists on December 17 that the Kazakh authorities were responsible for the incidents.
”Instead of taking care of human rights, [instead of] addressing the people’s problems in a legal way, [the authorities] used force, sent in troops, which shows that our authorities are not capable of working in a legal way,” Battalova said.
“It shows that our authorities fully ignore the principle of the rule of law and operate using force only. This kind of authority cannot run a country that proclaims itself a secular country based on law.”
State-run media outlets in Kazakhstan, meanwhile, carried an open letter of Kazakh metal workers and miners to the oil workers in the Manghystau region today, urging them “not to turn into a tool in the hands of destructive forces.”
The letter was signed by workers of the ArselorMittal Temirtau plant in central Kazakhstan.
Oil Workers Nervous
Also on December 18, oil workers in the town of Zhetibai in Manghystau province refused to go to work.
One of the local oil workers in Zhetibai, who gave his name only as Esbol, told RFE/RL by phone that hundreds of oil workers and local citizens gathered on the town’s central square to demand investigations into the shootings in Zhanaozen.
“Not far from the square, near a local school, there is a bus with military personnel. They are just watching us,” Esbol said. He added that the workers did not go to work on December 17 either.
On December 17, Kazakhstan’s state oil company, QazMunaiGaz, told journalists that some of its workers in Manghystau did not show up for work, but stated that it did not affect the daily output of crude oil in the region.
QazMunaiGaz officials were not available for immediate comment regarding the strike in Zhetibai.
Written by Merhat Sharipzhan, with reporting from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service and agencies