|The violence started after people in oil workers’ uniforms toppled a Christmas tree and sound equipment [Reuters]|
Police in Kazakhstan’s central city of Shetpe have opened fire on rioters, killing one person and raising the death toll since violence erupted on Friday to 14.
A statement from the prosecutor general’s office said on Sunday the violence occurred on Saturday in Shetpe, in the same region as the city of Zhanaozen where 13 people died in a clash with police two days earlier.
Zhanaozen has been the site of a sit-in by oil workers seeking higher wages. Many of those workers were fired over the summer.
The prosecutor general said a group of people in Shetpe, a train station about 100km from the regional centre Aktau on the Caspian sea, stopped a train with 300 passengers and “called for support of mass riots”.
Some 50 people resisted police demands to let the train move, torched the locomotives and proceeded to vandalise the village near the station.
“Police were forced to open fire,” wounding 12 people, the statement said. The total number wounded since the violence began is estimated to be around 100.
Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry blamed the clashes on a small group of provocateurs allegedly set on disrupting a public celebration marking the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, has declared a 20-day state of emergency in Zhanaozen.
Public protests are rare in the Central Asia’s largest economy and biggest oil producer, where the 71-year-old Nazarbayev has overseen more than $120bn in foreign investment during more than two decades in power.
Call for troops pullout
Nazarbayev tolerates little dissent and puts stability before democratic freedoms.
On Sunday morning, around 500 angry protesters gathered near Concord Square of Aktau, a city of 160,000 people on the Caspian sea, some 2,600km southwest of the capital Astana.
Braving biting frost, they faced a large force of black-clad riot police holding shields, a Reuters correspondent reported from the scene.
Some policemen were armed with automatic rifles. “Take the troops out of Mangistau!” read a long banner in Kazakh held by a dozen protesters.
One protester, Sarsekesh Bairbekov, said he had been fired by oil firm Karazhanbasmunai (KBM) in May. “I worked there for 20 years. I was a welder and lost an eye,” the 58-year-old said.
His wage was $810 before he was fired. KBM is jointly owned by London-listed KazMunaiGas Exploration Production and CITIC, China’s biggest state investment company.
“We want them to take away the troops,” Bairbekov said, referring to the state of emergency imposed in Zhanaozen after the riots. “They killed local people,” he added, still wearing maroon-and-blue KBM overalls.
Many protesters called into question the official death toll announced after the riots in Zhanaozen.
One oil worker, who declined to be named, said he had just visited a blood donor centre in Aktau. “It is working round-the-clock. If only 10 people were killed, why is it working round-the-clock?” he asked, referring to the initial death toll.
Nurlan Mukhanov, deputy chief doctor at the Mangistau regional hospital in Aktau, said the “majority” of vixtims had “gunshot wounds”. “We should be ready for any situation,” he said.
No Arab Spring
The clashes have soured national celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union and unnerved a government focused on stability and economic growth.
Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, a close adviser to Nazarbayev, said “foreign funding” fuelled the riots, but declined to elaborate. He said the situation was “firmly under control”.
“There will be no Arab-style revolution. You can see that Kazakhstan is calm,” he told Reuters by telephone.
“Kazakhstan’s entire multi-national population supports the head of state.”