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Striking Kazakh Oil Workers Picket Governor's Office

Kazakh oil workers picket the Manghystau regional governor's office in Aqtau today.

Kazakh oil workers picket the Manghystau regional governor's office in Aqtau today.

AQTAU, Kazakhstan -- Hundreds of striking oil workers in western Kazakhstan rallied today outside a regional governor's office to demand higher wages and the immediate release of a jailed trade union activist, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The protesters -- employees of the Qarazhanbasmunai Oil Company -- picketed the headquarters of the Manghystau regional governor's building in Aqtau.

Protester Quanysh Sisembaev told RFE/RL that a representative of Governor Qyrymbek Kosherbaev came out and told them the governor cannot meet with them because he is currently in Astana.

The protesters have been on strike for more than 20 days. They and many of their relatives are demanding a wage rise and the lifting of restrictions on the activities of independent trade unions in the region.

Natalya Sokolova, a trade union activist who provided the striking oil workers with legal assistance, was found guilty on May 24 of "organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering" in front of police headquarters in Aqtau on May 21 and sentenced to eight days in jail. Her sentence was to have ended on June 1.

But Sokolova's husband, Vasily Chepurnoi, told RFE/RL by phone on June 1 that instead of releasing her, the authorities in Aqtau have brought another criminal case against her on a charge of "igniting social hatred." She is still being detained.

Meanwhile, Kazakh Labor Minister Gulshara Abdykhalykova told journalists in Astana today that the Qarazhanbasmunai oil workers' demands are "baseless and illegal."

Read more in Kazakh here