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Striking Kazakh Oil Workers Say Meeting With Governor Fruitless

Kazakh oil workers picket the Manghystau regional administration office in Aqtau on June 2.

Kazakh oil workers picket the Manghystau regional administration office in Aqtau on June 2.

AQTAU -- Hundreds of striking oil workers in western Kazakhstan have met with the regional governor, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

After Manghystau Oblast Governor Qyrymbek Kosherbaev met in Aqtau with the striking workers from the Qarazhanbasmunai Oil Company on June 3, the workers picketing the governor's headquarters left.

They told RFE/RL their meeting with Kosherbaev was "not fruitful." They said Kosherbaev just told them that he considers the strike illegal. They did not elaborate on why they decided to leave the square in front of the governor's headquarters in Aqtau, the regional capital.

Hundreds of the striking oil workers had also gathered outside a regional governor's office to demand higher wages and the immediate release of jailed trade union activist Natalya Sokolova on June 2.

The protesters have been on strike for nearly one month. They and many of their relatives are demanding a wage increase and the lifting of restrictions on the activities of independent trade unions in the region.

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 a new criminal case against her on a charge of "igniting social hatred." She is still being detained.

The strikers told RFE/RL on June 3 that Sokolova's preliminary arrest was prolonged to three days on June 1 and therefore she is expected to be released on June 4, even though a criminal case against her is pending.

Manghystau Governor's press service issued a press release on June 3 saying that all the demands of the striking workers have been sent to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the government.

As for Sokolova's situation, the press release stated that "instead of providing the workers with legal support, Sokolova organized illegal public gatherings by the workers, which caused possible lay-offs and economic damages to the company."

Some of the striking workers told RFE/RL they had received warning letters from their employer about their possible firing for their absence at work.

Read more in Kazakh here