A Eurasianet partner post from 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 11 people were killed and at least 80 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 are monitoring the people gathered on the central square.
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.
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 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
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."
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.
Written by Merhat Sharipzhan, with reporting from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and agencies
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