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Kazakh Strikers Demand Apology From President’s Son-In-Law


Striking oil workers in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen in early September

Striking oil workers in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen in early September

ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan -- Striking oil workers in western Kazakhstan are seeking an apology from the president's son-in-law for describing them as a messy bunch led by repatriates, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Timur Kulibaev, who is married to one of President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s daughters, made the offending statement on September 29 at the Astana-based discussion club "Expert."

Kulibaev, who heads the country's powerful Samruk-Qazyna fund, said the leaders of the striking oil workers in Manghystau region are repatriates from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

He also said the striking oil workers gathered on Zhanaozen's central square are drinking, smoking, and dropping litter.

One of the striking oil workers, Atshybai Surenbaev, told RFE/RL that Kulibaev's repatriate allegation "hurt the honor and dignity of the strikers, as they and their parents have been living in the town of Zhanaozen since the 1960s. We are not repatriates, Kulibaev has no inkling of our country's recent history, and we want him to publicly apologize for his statement," Surenbaev told RFE/RL.

Surenbaev also described as false Kulibaev's claim about the messy behavior of the strikers in Zhanaozen's central square.

"All those who gathered here are normal people who respect law and order. We are here because we want our overdue salaries paid and our jobs back. We will not leave the square until our demands are met," Surenbaev said.

One of the leaders of the striking workers, Natalya Azhighalieva, who recently spent 15 days in jail for "organizing an illegal mass gathering," told RFE/RL there are no repatriates either among the striking workers or among their leaders.

"I was 2 when my parents moved to Zhanaozen in 1965," Azhighalieva said.

Thousands of oil workers at the Qarazhanbasmunai and OzenMunaiGaz oil and gas corporations in Manghystau Oblast have been on strike since May. They are demanding a wage increase, equal rights with foreign workers, and the lifting of restrictions on the activities of independent labor unions in the region.

Some 410 workers have been fired since the strike began. Several others have been brought to trial on charges of organizing unsanctioned mass gatherings.

A lawyer for the Qarazhanbasmunai oil company's labor unions, Natalya Sokolova, was found guilty of "igniting social hatred" in August and given a six-year jail term.

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