Another police officer has been shot dead in western Kazakhstan, the Kazakhstan Today news agency reports, bringing to five the death toll among the security forces in the country's restive, energy-rich region this month.
The latest officer to die was felled by gunfire from inside a house in the oil city of Aktobe -- which was the scene of a suicide bombing in May that authorities blamed on the mafia -- while he was pursing a gang suspected of a July 10 murder, the agency said.
A gunman opened fire, killing the officer, and also set off an explosion, Kazakhstan Today said. Police then found the corpse of a man inside the house, along with one injured man, whose identity is being established. A woman who said she was the owner of the house was detained. The date of the incident was not specified.
Two more members of the security forces were killed during a subsequent operation to hunt down those murderers, making the latest officer the fifth to die within a month. Nine suspects were also shot dead during that manhunt.
Twitter is buzzing this week with the melodies of Kazakh as Kazakhstan’s Twitterati launched a campaign to encourage the use of the language on the social network.
The #kzday campaign got off to a lively start on July 27. The date wasn’t chosen by chance. It was a Wednesday, an auspicious day for Kazakhs on which they like to embark on new enterprises, and organizers say #kzday will take place every Wednesday.
This campaign was proposed by @anatili, a user aiming to assist with learning Kazakh, and @battalov, who identifies himself as Arlan Battalov, a commercial real estate specialist.
There are already plenty of users tweeting in Kazakh, but this campaign is aimed at promoting more dialogue in Kazakh on Twitter, where discussions of Kazakh affairs often take place in Russian.
The lively first debate featured diverging views on whether it was permissible to make mistakes in Kazakh grammar in the interests of communication.
@battalov took a relaxed view. “I learned Kazakh in the street and in the village – there might be mistakes,” he tweeted.
Fortunately, the grammar fascists were outnumbered by those favoring communication, or the debate might not have lasted long.
The discussion was joined by @MuratAbenov, a member of the lower house of parliament, who stands out as unusual among his parliamentary colleagues for his willingness to embrace new media to engage with his electorate.
“GREAT IDEA!” he tweeted – in Russian – when the idea was mooted.
Kazakhstan is rife with rumors about Nursultan Nazarbayev’s health, following a report that the president is in a German hospital.
Nazarbayev's number-one foe, his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, immediately jumped into the fray, publishing news on his blog that the 71-year-old president had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Aliyev – who fell out with his former father-in-law in 2007 and jumps at any opportunity to pour vitriol on him – didn't explain why, if he's so well-informed, he only published this news after reports of Nazarbayev’s hospitalization surfaced on July 19 in the German tabloid Bild, rather than before.
A Bloomberg report on July 20 quoted Bild as reporting that Nazarbayev had undergone prostate surgery and would be heading back to Astana that day.
Back in Kazakhstan, officials and the media are tight-lipped over the state of the president’s health. Nazarbayev’s office, which said on July 11 that he was taking a short vacation, issued no public statement and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The report (which isn’t available on Bild’s site) said President Nursultan Nazarbayev was in the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf for unspecified treatment. Nazarbayev is meant to be on a short vacation, according to his office.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry referred EurasiaNet.org’s queries about his whereabouts to the president’s office, which could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources in Germany didn’t confirm the Bild report – the Federal Foreign Office told AFP it had no knowledge of Nazarbayev being in Hamburg, while Reuters quoted the hospital itself refusing to confirm or deny the news and a spokeswoman at the Kazakh embassy in Berlin saying she couldn’t confirm it either. “He's on vacation and he could be anywhere in the world," Reuters quoted the spokeswoman as saying.
Nazarbayev, who’s been at Kazakhstan’s helm for two decades, turned 71 earlier this month. He appears to be in a robust physical and mental condition, but any sign that his health is failing would cause concern among foreign investors, and among members of the Kazakh elite who’ve fared so well under his rule. Even as the succession issue looms ever larger as he ages, Nazarbayev has given no sign that he’s grooming anyone to take over, potentially paving the way for a vicious succession battle.
A shake-up of Kazakhstan’s political scene is under way with a revamped political party in Astana seemingly destined to play the role of tame opposition to the ruling party, Nur Otan. Analysts are cautioning that the apparent attempt by Astana officials to micromanage politics could backfire.
British rock star Sting didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he cancelled a concert in Astana earlier this month in protest at Kazakhstan's treatment of striking energy-sector workers.
Now, two disgruntled former cops who were fired for breaches of discipline have written to the former Police frontman asking him to intervene in their case, Tengri News reports.
Galiya Mukhambetova and Kumisbek Kanymbayev were fired from the police department in the western city of Aktobe last year, accused of involvement in the disappearance of top-secret case materials. They now face charges, which they deny, over the disappearance of the documents – which later turned up.
In a bid to clear their names and win reinstatement, the ex-officers have turned to Sting to answer their prayers. “I’m sure Sting will investigate our problem, and then the Kazakh authorities will pay attention to us,” Mukhambetova said.
She may be investing too much hope in the powers of the legendary rock star: His concert cancellation has so far done nothing to help the striking energy workers in western Kazakhstan.
Their industrial action over salaries and trade union rights has just entered its third month, and state oil and gas company KazMunayGaz is adamant that it won’t bow to their demands.
The company says the strike is illegal – a position backed by the courts – and has already fired hundreds of workers. Natalya Sokolova, a lawyer advising the strikers, is in detention facing charges of inciting social enmity, which carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
There have been a few interesting twists and turns lately in the fortunes of some implacable foreign-based foes of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
London-based oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov is on the up – he’s currently rejoicing over news that the UK authorities have agreed to grant him political asylum, a development that’s sure to enrage Astana.
“Mr Ablyazov’s application for political asylum was based on the fact that if he were to return to Kazakhstan he would be persecuted because of his political opinions,” RLF Partnership Ltd., which represents Ablyazov’s interests, said in a statement e-mailed on July 12.
Backing his claims, Ablyazov points to a prison sentence he served in Kazakhstan in the early 2000s on corruption charges. He was imprisoned shortly after becoming a founder member of a political reform movement.
BTA is now suing Ablyazov – who denies any wrongdoing – in London’s High Court, alleging that he defrauded the bank of $295 million. But in a setback to his case, earlier this month a witness admitted lying in court, the London Evening Standard reported.
The manhunt for a group suspected of the premeditated killing of two police officers in the western Kazakhstan village of Shubarshi on June 30 has prompted a bloodbath by the standards of normally tranquil Kazakhstan. So far, 13 are dead. But authorities are, once again, mysteriously intent on ruling out any connection with Islamic movements.
After a major security operation – and a $100,000 reward offered for information – the group was tracked down to a house in a nearby village, Kenkiyak, on July 8. Nine suspects and one police officer were killed in an ensuing shootout (another security forces officer died earlier when someone opened fire on him during the manhunt).
The authorities offered a baffling explanation for the incident: The group was engaged in organized crime while sheltering behind the guise of religion.
“For some time on the territory of Aktobe Region’s Temir District an organized criminal group has been operating which, using religious ideas as a cover, was engaged in theft from a pipeline near the villages of Shubarshi and Kenkiyak, and also committed other crimes of a mercenary and violent nature,” Aktobe Region police spokesman Almat Imangaliyev explained.
This is a rather enigmatic explanation. Why would they shelter behind religion, and what does that mean anyway?
The sparkling azure Great Almaty Lake in the Tian Shan mountains outside Kazakhstan’s commercial capital is usually a tranquil spot, but this summer it is a hive of activity: a film crew has descended to shoot a Kazakh historical epic, a tale of love and war set against the backdrop of some of the country’s most sumptuous scenery.