Violence in a town in Kazakhstan's energy-rich west has spoiled the December 16 Independence Day party that Astana has been billing as a celebration of the country’s success and achievements since it declared independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.
Kazakhstan’s General-Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged in a statement that the two law-enforcement officers had been injured in “mass unrest,” which it blamed on “the criminal actions of a group of people.”
The prosecutor’s office said Independence Day celebrations planned on the town’s main square, which has also been the focal point of the energy sector protest, were disrupted. Video from the private K-Plus TV channel posted on YouTube showed a crowd rampaging across the square, hurling PA systems to the ground and chasing a police officer off the stage.
It was not clear whether those involved were linked to the energy sector protest or had another goal. Some observers in Kazakhstan suggested that the incident may have been a provocation aimed at instigating violence to discredit President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his administration.
Meanwhile, activists in Kazakhstan suggested – without offering credible substantiation – that there had been fatalities, citing figures ranging from five to as many as 70 people.
The prosecutor’s office strongly denied the casualties, asserting that “reports that have appeared on social networks of shooting and casualties do not correspond to reality.” EurasiaNet.org could not reach law-enforcement bodies for further comment.
After rumors of casualties began spreading on Twitter, the social networking site became unavailable in Kazakhstan.
The protest comes as an embarrassment for Nazarbayev and his administration: they had been counting on the 20th anniversary celebrations to create a feel-good factor ahead of parliamentary elections on January 15.
The timing of the clash also had an unfortunate historical resonance – on December 17, Kazakhstan will mark the 25th anniversary of the Zheltoksan (December) uprising in 1986, when a demonstration in the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan, Alma-Ata (today Almaty), was violently crushed by Soviet security forces.