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Defying Police Crackdown, Kazakh Protests Continue

Michael Schwirtz, New York Times
Hundreds of people took to the streets in western Kazakhstan on Monday in defiance of a bloody police crackdown on striking oil workers that has caused dozens of casualties in the Central Asian nation.

The protest in the city of Aktau on the Caspian Sea followed three days of clashes between the police and striking workers in several cities in the region. The authorities have put the death toll from those clashes at 14, though witnesses and human rights workers have said the number of dead could be many times higher. Scores more have reportedly been injured.

Apparently in an effort to ease tensions, Kazakhstan’s prime minister on Monday announced a government commission to investigate the violence and address the grievances of the striking workers, the Russian news agency, Interfax, reported.

The clashes began on Friday in the city of Zhanaozen, not far from Aktau. For reasons that are unclear, the police opened fire on oil workers who had been holding a continuous strike in a central square for six months apparently over a wage dispute.
(19 December 2011)

The Massacre Everyone Ignored: Up To 70 Striking Oil Workers Killed In Kazakhstan By US-Supported Dictator

Mark Ames, The eXiled Online
With violence and government crackdowns making headlines from so many familiar parts of the world, there’s hardly been a peep in the media about the biggest and ugliest massacre of all: Last Friday in Kazakhstan, riot police slaughtered up 70 striking oil workers, wounding somewhere between 500 and 800, and arresting scores. Almost as soon as the massacre went down in the western regional city of Zhanaozen, the Kazakh authorities cut off access to twitter and cell phone coverage–effectively cutting the region off from the rest of the world, relegating the massacre into the small news wire print.

But not before someone was able to get a video out to YouTube last Friday, showing the moment when the striking oil workers rushed the barricades. They’ve had to have put up with inhuman, medieval abuse for months now, culminating with the murders a few months back of a striking oil worker and the 18-year-old-daughter of another union organizer, as well as the jailing of a labor lawyer working with the striking oil workers.

Keep in mind, the oil company whose workers are striking for better pay and union recognition, KazMunaiGaz, is “owned” by the billionaire son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s Western-backed president-for-life. Among Kazakhstan’s leading American partners are Chevron …
[YouTube videos of the violence]

That went down on Friday. We know very little even today because the government clamped down on all communication with the outside world, cutting off cell phone communications and Twitter, imposing martial law, and bringing in special forces and riot police to terrorize Zhanaozen and other cities in the oil-rich west where sympathy strikes and protests have broken out. Journalists have been barred, and two reporters from reputable Russian online media outlets have been arrested. The government claims 15 dead; strikers, who have proven far more reliable, say at least 70 are dead and 500 wounded.
(19 December 2011)
Warning: graphic images at original.

More on The eXiled. Apparently it is “a Los Angeles-based newspaper that was originally founded by editors Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi as an English-language newspaper in Russia. They were banned by the Russian government over three years ago, regrouping in Los Angeles.”


Kazakhstan: Riots Not Prelude to Arab Spring

James Brooke, Voice of America
For years, Kazakhstan has nurtured an image of stability and friendliness to foreign investors. In recent days, a series of riots and protests in western Kazakhstan has marred this image.

Kazakh authorities sought Tuesday to defuse protests in its main oil-producing region, promising to find jobs for thousands of workers who have been on strike since last May.

Last weekend, the seven-month-long strike erupted into violence as police fired on rioters in two towns in western Kazakhstan. Officially 15 people were killed, 110 others wounded and 46 buildings were burned.

Ainur Kurmanov, a Kazakh labor leader visiting Moscow, told says that the human toll was far higher, probably around 70 dead and 700 to 800 wounded.

On Tuesday, communications were restored with Zhanaozen, the oil city that saw the most violence. Rioters there looted bank cash machines and burned the mayor’s office, a hotel and the offices of the Kazakh-Chinese joint venture company that had fired the workers last May.

Kazakhstan is the world’s 18th largest oil producer and an increasingly important supplier of oil to its eastern neighbor, China. The riots dent Kazakhstan’s image as an investor-friendly island of stability in Central Asia.

The oil field dispute should have been resolved six months ago, Kazakh Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Yermukhamet Yertysbayev told Interfax Tuesday.

He blamed the violence on oil workers from neighboring Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Saying Kazakhs are peaceful people, he added that an Arab revolution in Kazakhastan is “impossible in principle.” He said he is “deeply convinced” that this will not happen on a national scale.

Scenes of the rioting have been played extensively on Russian television, prompting the Kazakh presidential advisor to charge that the Russian media are using the riots to distract Russians from their own protest movement.

(20 December 2011)
Someone is asleep at the switch at Voice of America: this story is categorized on their site as “Central Africa.” -BA

Seeing Revolution Everywhere: the ‘Kazakhstan Spring’ That Isn’t

Joshua Foust, The Atlantic
… Over the weekend, a long-simmering worker’s strike in the western oil town of Zhanaozen boiled over into an outright riot, and in the melee with Kazakh security forces at least 15 people have been killed. Information from the area has been extremely difficult to come by, leading to many unanswered questions about what, precisely, happened. The Kazakh government declared a state of emergency until January 5 and has restricted access by journalists. One activist has been jailed for protesting the government’s response and the Kazakh government is fending off criticisms of its violent response to the riots. The area seems to be in an uneasy calm but a great deal of tension remains.

While the situation in Kazakhstan continues to seethe — hospitals are still treating wounded suffering from gunshot wounds and the streets of Zhanaozen are dotted with burned-out buildings — it is important to keep in mind what Kazakhstan is not. Kazakhstan is dealing with localized unrest. It is not dealing with an Arab Spring-style movement or even a revitalized global terrorist movement.

There is a certain path dependency to describing situations of political and social unrest in familiar terms — that is, when analysts look at a new situation then tend to contextualize it in terms of what they’re most familiar with. So when a terrorism analyst looks at Kazakhstan he or she often sees the specter of terrorism; when a political analyst looks at Kazakhstan he or she sees instability.
(20 December 2011)