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Two Hospitalized After Oil-Worker Protest In Western Kazakhstan

Kazakh oil workers picket in Aqtau on June 2.
Kazakh oil workers picket in Aqtau on June 2.
AQTAU, Kazakhstan -- Two men are in hospital in western Kazakhstan after publicly slashing their stomachs when police set about arresting dozens of protesting oil workers, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The protest on June 5 in the western city of Aqtau was staged by workers at the Qarazhanbasmunai oil company, who have been on strike for almost a month to demand higher wages and the lifting of restrictions on independent trade unions.

One of the protesters, Quanysh Sisembaev, told RFE/RL that the workers marched from the city's central bus station toward the central square and intended to block a major thoroughfare, but police intervened and used violence to disperse them. At least 37 protesters were detained.

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced today that the police action in Aqtau was legal.

The march was called to express the workers' dissatisfaction with the results of their meeting with regional governor Qyrymbek Kosherbaev on June 3.

They also demanded the rehiring of all workers fired for participating in the strike and the immediate release of jailed local union activist Natalya Sokolova, who provided them with legal assistance.

Sokolova 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 the local authorities have not released her and say she has been charged with "igniting social hatred."

Read in Kazakh here