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.
Kazakhstan's elections: "Important for you, important for the country."
As Kazakhstan’s parliamentary election campaign begins on December 16, the country’s political classes are preparing for the ruling Nur Otan party to win yet another landslide. Though President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration bills the snap poll as a move toward democratization, few expect the January 15 election to loosen his stranglehold on the political process.
Eight parties are standing for seats in the Mazhilis, the lower house. Nur Otan, which is led by Nazarbayev and held all elected seats in the last Mazhilis (dissolved last month for this snap election), is heading for a landslide—perhaps on a par with the 88 percent it received in 2007, when no other party cleared the 7-percent electoral threshold.
Under legislation passed in 2008, this time a multiparty parliament is guaranteed: If no other party clears the barrier, the party coming second will be exempted from it.
Favorite to come second is the pro-business Ak Zhol party, led by Azat Peruashev and viewed as tacitly backed by Astana for the role of tame parliamentary opposition.
The only credible opposition force standing is the OSDP, which includes the Azat party and is co-led by Zharmakhan Tuyakbay and Bolat Abilov.
The Party of Patriots’ ticket is headed by environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, famous for challenging Nazarbayev in this April’s presidential election – and voting not for himself but for Nazarbayev.
A clash between a group of suspected terrorists and security forces outside Kazakhstan's commercial capital has claimed seven lives, local news agencies reported. The weekend fighting is latest in a series of terrorism-related incidents that are sending shock waves through the country as authorities confront the rising threat to stability posed by homegrown extremism.
The shootout occurred in the village of Boralday, five kilometers outside Almaty, when security forces moved in near midnight on December 3 to capture a group they suspected of being behind the killing of two police officers in central Almaty on November 8. Two members of the elite Arystan crack squad and five members of the group died, the prosecutor's office said, including the alleged leader, named Agzhan Khasen, who was wanted on suspicion of leading a terrorist group. Two grenades and four firearms were found in the house where the group was holed up.
"There is no threat to the public and there are no grounds for anxiety," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The incident brings the death toll from a string of cases with possible extremist links to 37, including 14 members of law-enforcement bodies.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is staging a political comeback in Kazakhstan. After four years in the wilderness, Nazarbayeva, daughter of strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, is to stand for parliament on the ticket of her father’s ruling Nur Otan party. In Kazakhstan's micromanaged political system, it's an almost certain bet that she’ll get in.
Nur Otan unveiled its party list for the January 15 election at its party congress today. This is a remarkable comeback for the president's eldest daughter, who fell out of favor thanks to the antics of her former husband Rakhat Aliyev in 2007. Aliyev was once a powerful political and economic player in Kazakhstan, but his machinations finally became too much for Nazarbayev when he was linked to the abduction of two bankers. Criminal charges were filed against him, and Nazarbayeva divorced him.
The bankers' bodies were found this year, prompting a murder charge against Aliyev, who’s already been found guilty in absentia on charges including abduction, racketeering and plotting a coup d'etat. Aliyev, who regularly emits a stream of online vitriol against his former father-in-law, is now reported to be living in Malta under the surname of his new wife, Shoraz.