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President Visits Troubled West Kazakhstan, Fires Officials

A nurse on December 19 attends to a man injured during the clashes in the city of Zhanaozen three days earlier.

A nurse on December 19 attends to a man injured during the clashes in the city of Zhanaozen three days earlier.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has visited a western region hit by deadly riots and a prolonged labor dispute, dismissed several officials over the recent eruption of violence.

Nazarbaev sacked the governor of the Manghystau region, where demonstrations by sacked and striking oil workers escalated into clashes with police that left at least 15 protesters dead on December 16.

The president also fired son-in-law Timur Kulibaev from the top post at Samruk-Kazyna, the state holding company that is the sole owner of KazMunaiGaz, the national producer, refiner, and transporter of oil and gas. Nazarbaev's press office said he also fired the heads of KMG and a London-based subsidiary.

After the firings, Zhanna Oyshybaeva, an aide to newly appointed Governor Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov, said former Governor Krymbek Kusherbaev was not responsible for the Zhanaozen violence.

Oyshybaeva said the violence "happened due to the actions of incompetent officials of KazMunaiGaz who did not want to talk with [striking] oil workers."

Oil workers in the area have been on strike since May, demanding better wages, among other things. Some of the thousands of initial strikers were dismissed, prompting many of their colleagues to return to work.

News media reported that Nazarbaev had met with local people. But a resident who tried to approach the president's delegation told RFE/RL that she and others were not allowed to get near the president.

He did not meet with protesters supporting strikers in the regional capital, Aqtau, according to RFE/RL Kazakh Service correspondents.

The European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United States have called on Kazkah authorities to conduct a transparent investigation into the violence.

Authorities have insisted that police acted as a last resort and in self-defense by firing into the air and into the ground.

But amateur video taken during the clashes appeared to show security forces shooting seemingly unarmed people as they fled the scene and, in at least one case, beating a man after he'd been struck.

Kazakhstan's prosecutor-general reportedly has invited the United Nations to take part in the investigation.

based on RFE/RL and agency reports

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