The riot-hit town of Zhanaozen will be casting ballots in Kazakhstan’s January 15 parliamentary election after all: A postponement of the vote there, announced on January 6, has now been overturned by the president. But several big names have been struck from the poll.
Nursultan Nazarbayev vetoed the postponement on January 10 after “he took account of the disquiet and concern of the inhabitants of Zhanaozen at the fact that by this Constitutional Council decision their electoral rights … were restricted,” his office said.
Zhanaozen will vote under a state of emergency ordered after at least 16 protestors were shot dead by security forces on December 16.
But as Nazarbayev moved to increase the legitimacy of the election by allowing Zhanaozen to participate, two of Kazakhstan’s best-known opposition leaders – Bolat Abilov, co-leader of the OSDP Azat party, and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, a leading party member and journalist – were thrown out of the election, accused of irregularities in financial declarations.
OSDP Azat was not the only party affected: Vladimir Bobrov of the ruling Nur Otan party was also struck off, as were three candidates from smaller parties. However, OSDP Azat is the only genuine opposition party allowed to stand, and the expulsion of two of its leading lights deals a severe blow to its hopes.
When Kazakhstan goes to the polls to elect a new parliament on January 15, voters in the restless western oil town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead when police opened fire on protestors last month, will not be allowed to cast their ballots.
Astana has postponed the election in Zhanaozen, promising that its 50,000 voters can head to the polls at an unspecified later date.
The Central Electoral Commission announced the move on January 6 after consultations with the Constitutional Council, on the grounds that the vote cannot be held in the town while a state of emergency is in place. On January 4, President Nursultan Nazarbayev extended the state of emergency until the end of the month.
The exclusion of Zhanaozen’s voters from the election, even if temporary, raises the question of how legitimate the election will be. Central Electoral Commission head Kuandyk Turgankulov said casually that Zhanaozen’s exclusion would have only “minimal” impact on the nationwide election results.
Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and fair by international observers, and Nazarbayev and his ruling Nur Otan party regularly win with eye-popping landslides. Nazarbayev won reelection last April with 95.5 percent of the vote; Nur Otan won the last parliamentary election in 2007 with 88 percent, forming a single-party parliament after other parties failed to clear the 7 percent voter threshold.
Prosecutors in Kazakhstan have opened an inquiry into the shooting of protestors by police in the western oil town of Zhanaozen on December 16.
Investigators opened the case into the fatal shootings on December 27, the prosecutor’s office announced two days later. Security forces are being investigated for “exceeding authority or official powers with the use of weapons and special tools.”
The move comes amid mounting pressure on Astana to investigate the circumstances of how police came to fire on protestors involved in an industrial dispute in Zhanaozen. The government is already pursuing an inquiry into the overall circumstances of how the protest turned violent, killing 16 people according to the latest death toll, and has invited UN participation. However, this is the first time that officials have specifically instigated a probe into the police for the deaths.
Video posted on YouTube, apparently filmed by a local resident, shows police opening fire directly at retreating demonstrators and beating one protestor lying prone on the ground with truncheons. The police claim to have exonerating video but have yet to produce it.
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.”