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State Of Emergency In Restive Kazakh Town


In this still image taken from video acquired by Reuters, people walk past a destroyed stage in the Kazakh town of Zhanaozen

In this still image taken from video acquired by Reuters, people walk past a destroyed stage in the Kazakh town of Zhanaozen

Kazakhstan's president has issued a decree enforcing a state of emergency and a curfew in Zhanaozen, a western Kazakh town where at least 11 people were shot dead amid a protest by striking oil workers on December 16.
The decree by Nursultan Nazarbaev imposes the measures from December 17 to January 5.

It bans strikes and public protests, restricts freedom of movement around the city, and also limits access to and from the city.
Nazarbaev, chairing an emergency meeting of his Security Council, said the situation in Zhanaozen had been brought under control and vowed perpetrators of the unrest would be punished.

“Anyone who breaks the law will be punished severely. It should not be forgotten. A special group led by the Prosecutor-General’s Office has been set up and it will investigate thoroughly the events [in Zhanaozen], identify violators of the law, and it will work openly on a regular basis. And if there is need, then [the group] will invite foreign experts,” Nazarbaev said.
The decree comes as the government raised the official death toll for those killed to 11. Nurdaulen Syundikov, the spokesman for the Kazakh prosecutor-general, revised the death toll up from 10. He said 86 people were wounded, including six police officers, and around 70 people were arrested.

Other higher death tolls are circulating in reports on Kazakh social media, but are impossible to corroborate.

The decree comes amid an uneasy calm in the oil city in the western Manghystau Oblast. There is now a heavy police presence at key oil production facilities.
Orken Zhoyamergen, a reporter for Stan-TV who is on the scene in Zhanaozen, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that police and oil workers met on December 17 in the central square where the 11 protesters were killed.

Follow the story in Kazakh and Russian from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
“This morning oil workers again went to the Independence Square in Zhanaozen. Law-enforcement bodies again surrounded them. There were white flags and posters in the oil workers’ hands," Zhoyamergen said.
“Peace was written on the posters. Then the Zhanaozen prosecutor came and urged the oil workers to hold talks. The prosecutor said, 'if there is no damage, destruction, and looting, we will not do anything to you.'"

Kazakhstan's state-owned oil company, KazMunaiGas Exploration Production (KMG EP), said some of its workers failed to appear for the overnight shift and morning shift on December 17. The company said in a statement that the "workers are afraid for their own security and the security of their family members."
Stunned Silence
The company claimed it was maintaining daily oil-production levels by keeping its employees working around the clock.
But independently assessing the situation in Zhanaozen is almost impossible. The violence in this city of 90,000 near the Caspian coast has stunned most of its inhabitants into silence.
Attempts by reporters to phone hospitals to confirm the toll of dead and injured after police fired on striking oil workers in the city's central square have been met with phone receivers quickly put down by frightened staff.
According to Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, 75 people were hospitalized and six police officers were among those injured. He also said around 70 people were arrested.
International human rights organizations have expressed concern for the safety of ordinary citizens.

European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said on December 17 in a statement she hoped for an immediate investigation and a peaceful solution to the problems faced by the striking workers.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, said on December 16 his office called on the Kazakh authorities "to investigate the incident promptly and to ensure that law-enforcement agencies do not use excessive force in maintaining public order."
Others have expressed concern over the government's apparent shutting down of some mobile phones and Internet access in the city to control the flow of information.
"Without a means of communication with the outside world, people in Zhanaozen are extremely vulnerable," said Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The extent of the damage to the city from the violence remains unclear.
Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbaev said in a statement from Astana on December 16 that several buildings, including the headquarters of KMG EP's UzenMunaiGaz unit in Zhanaozen, were set on fire.
"As a result of the mass disorder, the buildings of the town administration, a hotel, and the administration building of UzenMunaiGaz were torched. Property of private persons and companies was also destroyed. Cars were burned and ATMs plundered," Daulbaev said.

WATCH: Police break up protests in Almaty on December 17. Video by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

State-controlled television -- which seldom shows pictures of dissent of any kind in the country -- broadcast footage of the riots, including of people darting around in panic.
A spokeswoman for the governor of Manghystau Oblast, Zhanna Oshybaeva, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the violence began after city workers began to set up the square for independence celebrations.
"Zhanaozen city authorities decided to install yurts in the city's main square, where there was a gathering of oil workers who had been sacked for failure to report for work, to create a festive atmosphere for the celebrations for local residents," Oshybaeva said.
"But this fact made the strikers gathered in the square unhappy and they started throwing rocks and whistling."
Ongoing Strikes
Thousands of oil workers have been on strike in the Zhanaozen area since May. They demand a pay increase, equal rights with foreign workers, and the lifting of restrictions on the activities of independent labor unions in the region.
The shooting broke out as police tried to clear the square, which has been occupied for more than six months by hundreds of the striking oil men.
In phone interviews before service was cut, local residents and striking workers gave their accounts of what happened.
Marat Zhusipbaev, said police opened fired on the protesters: "I saw eight people get shot down right in front of me. Now they are shooting at me. Eight men died. We've just sent them [to hospital in a car]. The emergency service is not able to help them all. They were under fire too. It's not so bad when someone takes a bullet in the leg. But many are shot in the neck. There are common people as well as oil men [among the injured]."
Another striking oil man, Orazbai Tursynov, told RFE/RL: "People are fed up with this [negligence]. During the cold winter days, the number of striking oil men on the Central Square [in Zhanaozen] might seem to be decreasing. But they have a huge number of relatives [supporting them]. All of them are hungry and tired of living with no money. We wanted to make our position clear."
The strikers' cause has been endorsed by some opposition parties.

Bolat Abilov, a leader of the opposition Social Democratic Azat (Free) Party, said that "for seven months, those striking workers were standing in the scorching sun, in the rain and wind and snow, and the authorities would not start a dialogue with them."
But Nazarbaev said he did not believe aggrieved workers were behind the violence. "One shouldn't confuse an oil mens' working dispute with the criminal acts of bandits who aimed to take advantage of the situation," he said.
The Manghystau region, which includes Kazakhstan's energy-rich Caspian coast, is believed to account for 70 percent of the country's oil output, which itself amounts to more than 10 percent of the national gross domestic product.
KMG EP's London-traded stock closed down 4.0 percent on December 16, versus a decline of only 0.4 percent in the wider oil and gas sector.

WATCH: Footage, from K+ television, of the protesting oil workers rioting in Zhanaozen

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