On the charred side of a building in the troubled town of Zhanaozen in Kazakhstan’s energy-rich west hangs a poster of a smiling President Nursultan Nazarbayev above a slogan: “Congratulations on the Independence Holiday!”
The independence celebration on December 16 was intended to showcase this oil-rich state’s achievements over the past two decades. Instead, when the party in this bleak energy town turned horribly violent, it exposed cracks in a system that Nazarbayev has built and personifies.
When EurasiaNet.org’s correspondent visited Zhanaozen on December 20 on a trip organized by local authorities, it was teeming with black-clad riot police. A tank guarded the approach, with security forces monitoring movements under a state of emergency imposed until January 5 – a date just 10 days before Kazakhstan is due to vote in a parliamentary election.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.