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Kazakhstan's U.S. Ambassador Calls Video Of Police Shooting Protesters 'Shocking'

A still image from the video, which was posted on YouTube on December 20
A still image from the video, which was posted on YouTube on December 20
Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United States says an amateur video showing police in the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen shooting at unarmed protesters as they flee is "shocking" and that the government is planning an investigation.

Erlan Idrissov made the comments on December 21 at a Washington press conference following several days of protests by striking and unemployed oil workers in the country's oil-rich Caspian coastal region.

The video was apparently taken by a witness from her apartment window near the square where the incident happened. It was posted on YouTube on December 20.

Idrissov intimated that government officials had seen the video and planned to investigate:

"I cannot tell you anything specific of this -- how this came into being, who made the video, et cetera, et cetera," he said. "This is for experts to discuss. The events broke out [on] the sixteenth [of December] and you have this [video] on the twenty first. But one thing for sure is that the government is aware of this coverage and at the very top level it has been ensured that this and other similar facts will be thoroughly investigated."

Idrissov added that, if the video and any other footage like it turned out to be authentic, then "justice will be brought."

Kazakh authorities have said that 14 people were killed in the violence on December 16 and more than 80 wounded. Protesters have said the death toll is much higher, although their claims can not be independently verified.

The video shows protesters and passersby moving away from the police, who are not yet in the frame. Some of the protesters are throwing rocks at the police.

The sound of shooting can then be heard with police officers advancing behind riot shields. Some protesters are shot as they try to flee. After the shooting, one man lies motionless on the ground, while another limps away. Riot police then move in, some of them drawing weapons and beating protesters on the ground.

The Kazakh authorities have defended their use of force against "hooligans," including the decision to use firearms.

Officials have said that the police only shot into the air and at the ground and the resulting deaths were due to ricocheting bullets.

"Given the fact that, despite warning shots, mobs continued to attack the police, in order to protect the lives and health of workers trapped, as well as to prevent the spread of weapons in the hands of thugs, the police were forced to apply their service weapons," Nurdaulet Suindikov, a spokesperson for the attorney-general said on December 17.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said that the police acted within their authority under the law.

Witnesses to the unrest have contradicted the authorities' version, claiming that police deliberately shot at protesters.

Although protests have continued in recent days across western Kazakhstan, calm has been restored to the center of the protests, Zhanaozen. There has been a heavy deployment of police and security forces and Nazarbaev has imposed a curfew on the city until January 5, 2012.

Internet and mobile phone services went down on December 16 and were only restored on December 20. The Emergency Situations Ministry said that services were interrupted temporarily due to the disruption of electricity.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to restore communications and said, "there is some indication that the government ordered the shut down of at least some mobile, voice, and text services in Zhanaozen."

Written by Luke Allnutt and Richard Solash with reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: William Courtney from: Washington DC
December 21, 2011 17:15
The video is chilling. It and other information increasingly contradict the official version of events.

The authorities claim that only fourteen people were killed on December 16, but the number appears to be higher, perhaps much higher. A hospital worker reported that she personally had "closed the eyes" of twenty-three victims. An eyewitness said eight people were shot and killed directly in front of her. A resident of Zhanaozen said the number of traditional tents that people put in front of their houses for funeral proceedings implies that more than fourteen people were killed. Officials allege that police only shot in the air, and perhaps ricocheting bullets hit people. The video invalidates such claims.

The authorities instilled fear in the city after the incident, suggesting a cover-up was in the offing. Transportation and communications links to the outside were cut. Attempts by journalists to confirm the toll of dead and injured, according to RFERL, "met with phone receivers quickly put down by frightened staff." Journalists who arrived in the regional capital, Aqtau, on December 18 were refused permission to visit Zhanaozen.

President Nazarbayev has backed the version of events asserted by his law enforcement and security organs. On December 17 he issued a statement blaming "hooligans" for the disorder and claiming police had to open fire to "protect themselves and local citizens and preserve order." The new video undercuts these claims.

In 1986 Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev failed to reveal the Chernobyl nuclear disaster until days after it had begun. His cover-up put at risk the health of millions of people who lived around the reactor and in its path of fallout, embittering many Soviet citizens. This was an important factor in undermining the legitimacy of his and the Soviet communist party's rule.

Unless Kazakhstan's leaders start telling the truth and making amends for the Zhanaozen tragedy, they will face rising challenges to their legitimacy. President Nazarbayev faces a choice that is becoming more difficult with each passing day.
In Response

by: Kazakh
December 22, 2011 03:18
Mr. Courtney,

The truth is far more chilling. Eyewitnesses say that the police torture arrested people. Police strip people down, beat up, put outside and hose with cold water. And it is winter now. And winters in that part of Kazakhstan are very cold.

Among those who were shut an old woman, a toddler, and a pregnant woman. How dangerous were these victims to a full armored police? On this video you can hear comments of the Kazakh women who were videotaping. One of them believed that those bullets were “harmless”. And many people were thinking at the beginning of the shooting that bullets are made of rubber.

The minister of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan Kalmuhanbet Kasymov says in the media “Shooting was absolutely necessary, and if we decide that need to do it again, we will do it again”.

Now, president Nazarbaev promised oil workers to restore their old status at work and pay all their money back. However, and this is probably a surprise to Nazarbaev, the strikers said “Now we do not need your money. After you spilled blood, we do not want to get into any business with you. Just leave”. People in Western Kazakhstan are angry to that degree they decided to accept death on the square and not to give up.

What will happen next since this sick regime is clinging to power?

by: JM from: Canada
December 22, 2011 00:57
We do not believe the official version of the events. I am sure this carnage will not be forgiven or forgotten.

by: Anonymous
December 22, 2011 02:58
Another tape.

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