The dream sours: A national energy company poster showing Nazarbayev and the slogan "Our oil for our independent nation." It was damaged by fire in deadly riots in Zhanaozen on December 16 for which Nazarbayev has blamed the oil bosses.
Police in Zhanaozen, scene of deadly riots on December 16 when security forces opened fire on protestors, have been pouring over video of the incident—as well they might. They stand accused of shooting unarmed demonstrators, killing 15 according to the official death toll (rights groups say the true figure may be higher). An incriminating video challenges the official version that police fired in self-defense.
Now police claim to be in possession of video exonerating themselves, Kazakhstan Today reports.
“They started it,” Zhanaozen police chief Mukhtar Kozhayev said. “This is registered by all the video recordings.” Police tried to hold protestors seeking to disrupt Independence Day celebrations back, he said, but “they broke through our encirclement, some officers were beaten up” and “bottles, rocks, and steel bars flew at us.”
Kazakhstan Today quoted Kozhayev as saying video showed people “shooting from sawn-off shotguns and pistols.” Unfortunately, there is no record of Kozhayev showing this mysterious video to exonerate his own officers.
Police have also been scrutinizing the incriminating YouTube video—and they are on the tail of those that filmed it from the window of an apartment block, Tengri News reports. “The address has been established, but the inhabitants have not been found. They may be in [nearby city] Aktau,” regional police chief Amanzhol Kabylov said ominously.
Heads are rolling in the aftermath of violence in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has dismissed oil industry officials after insinuating that their inaction over the labor dispute that had festered since May contributed to the turmoil. But despite concerns that security officials overreacted, top brass remain untouched.
During a December 22 visit to Aktau and Zhanaozen, epicenter of the December 16-17 violence that left 16 dead, Nazarbayev named Deputy Oil and Gas Minister Lyazzat Kiinov to replace Bolat Akchulakov as head of the KazMunayGaz (KMG) state energy company. At London Stock Exchange-listed daughter company KazMunayGaz Exploration Production, Alik Aydarbayev was promoted from board chairman to chief executive, replacing Askar Balzhanov.
The dismissed officials are first to take the rap for the violence, which Nazarbayev distanced himself from, remarking that “my instruction to resolve the labor dispute in a timely manner was not carried out.” He described the dismissals of strikers as “illegal” and their demands as “substantiated,” pledging to find them new jobs at the same salaries. Their vindication begs the question why 16 people had to die before Astana acted.
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!”
OzenMunayGaz: Things will never be quite the same again.
Riot police maintain a presence in Kazakhstan’s energy-rich west as authorities seek to restore normality to the troubled town of Zhanaozen, the epicenter of December 16-17 clashes between security forces and protestors that left at least 15 dead. In nearby Aktau, demonstrators continue to demand accountability for the bloodshed.
A state of emergency is in place in Zhanaozen, where the prosecutor’s office said the situation “is gradually normalizing." But, as EurasiaNet.org witnessed during a December 20 visit organized by local authorities, the hospital is still busy treating the wounded and the streets are dotted with burned-out buildings, including the town hall and the office of OzenMunayGaz. The firm has been at the center of a labor dispute with energy-sector workers that began in May and is believed to have sparked the violence.
Most of the injured suffered gunshot wounds: Raushan Zhaparova, the hospital’s deputy director, said that of 99 people the hospital received, 75 were wounded by firearms. The official injury toll stands at 110.
Bekmurat Turashev, an oil sector worker who said he was not involved in the industrial dispute, was groaning in a hospital bed on an intravenous drip after being shot in the stomach, hand and back. What happened? “I didn’t have a clue,” he responded.
Deadly unrest in Kazakhstan's oil-rich west has spread beyond the troubled town of Zhanaozen, leading to another clash between security forces and protestors in which one demonstrator was shot dead, bringing the death toll since Friday to 14.
The latest trouble began at the railroad station in the town of Shetpe 100 kilometers from Zhanaozen, where protestors blocked the railroad and disrupted train traffic, the prosecutor’s office said. Some dispersed at police orders, but a group of about 50 set fire to a train with Molotov cocktails before rioting in the town, after which police opened fire.
The train blockade began, the prosecutor’s office said, at 1:24 p.m. on December 17, spilling into violence at around 8:00 p.m. What the prosecutor’s office did not explain was why it buried news of the fatal clash by posting a statement on its website in the middle of the night. The news was picked up by Kazakh news agencies at around 3:00 a.m. on December 18.
Likewise, though trouble broke out in Zhanaozen on the morning of December 16, the prosecutor’s office waited until 5:00 p.m. to give a briefing. State TV channels Khabar and Kazakhstan continued broadcasting joyful footage of Independence Day celebrations, while the Twitter social networking site and critical news websites such as Guljan were blocked.
Government officials in Astana were among those relieved when Twitter was restored on the evening of December 17. “Glad to be back on Twi!” tweeted Roman Vassilenko, chairman of the Foreign Ministry’s Committee for International Information.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has imposed a state of emergency on the troubled western town of Zhanaozen, scene of violent clashes between protestors and police during December 16 Independence Day celebrations in which 11 people died.
Under the 20-day state of emergency, rallies, protests, and strikes are prohibited; freedom of movement within the oil town of Zhanaozen, and into and out of it, is restricted.
Although a government investigation commission has just begun work, Nazarbayev absolved the police and blamed the “criminal actions” of protestors for the violence.
Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov earlier said the clashes were provoked by former staff members of the OzenMunayGaz company who were dismissed over the summer for striking.
However, the president expressed doubt about that version, saying that “the oil workers’ industrial dispute must not be mixed up with the actions of bandit elements which wanted to use the situation for their criminal designs.”
Kazakhstan is marking its 20th anniversary of independence on December 16-17 with great fanfare. At the same time, it’s commemorating another anniversary, albeit more somberly: a quarter-century ago the Zheltoksan (December) uprising left a profound imprint on the national psyche.
Ten people have died in an Independence Day clash between protestors and police in the town of Zhanaozen in Kazakhstan’s energy-rich west, the General-Prosecutor's Office has confirmed.
The fatal confrontation is sending shockwaves through Kazakhstan, where major protests are rare, and bringing to mind unfortunate parallels as the country prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Zheltoksan (December) uprising by Soviet security forces in 1986.
“According to preliminary information, as a result of mass unrest 10 people died, and there are injured, including police officers,” the prosecutor’s office said, indicating that the death toll may rise further. It blamed the unrest on the “criminal actions” of a “group of people engaging in hooliganism.”
That comment sparked further comparisons with the Zheltoksan uprising in the then capital of Soviet Kazakhstan, Alma-Ata (now Almaty): it was initially blamed by Soviet authorities on hooligans, before being recognized – after independence – as a harbinger of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.
Today’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was prime minister of Soviet Kazakhstan at the time when the Zheltoksan protest was brutally suppressed. Twenty-five years on, protestors in Zhanaozen rioted and set fire to the local government headquarters and the administration building of the OzenMunayGaz company that has been at the center of an energy sector protest ongoing since May, the prosecutor’s office said.
That industrial dispute, which centers on take-home pay and working conditions, has led to the dismissals of at least 2,000 staff, who have used Zhanaozen’s main square (the site of this Independence Day violence) as a focal point for protest over the last seven months.
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.
Straight out of a Soviet playbook: "Every Kazakhstani must be provided with the opportunity to participate in the country's large-scale industrialization."
Kazakhstan is greeting Independence Day in style on December 16, with a riot of celebrations to mark this year's special anniversary—20 years since the oil-rich Central Asian nation was propelled into statehood as the Soviet Union collapsed around it.
As befits a special occasion in a country that knows how to throw a party, festivities are on a grand scale. New facilities are being opened across the country. The grandest of all is an arch reminiscent of Paris's Arc de Triomphe that President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened in Astana today. Standing 20 meters tall to represent the symbolic anniversary, the arch, called Infinity Land, is being billed as a symbol of Kazakhstan's statehood.
More symbolically, Almaty has also gained a gigantic statue of none other than the president himself, who – according to the spin emanating from Astana – has spent the last two decades singlehandedly steering Kazakhstan into statehood.
Nazarbayev has received an “endless flow” of congratulations from his adoring public, his press service reported, and “the letters’ authors link all the country’s achievements” with their president.