The Kazakh president has enforced a 20-day state of emergency and an evening curfew in the town of Zhanaozen. Police arrested some 70 people over the violent uprising, which left at least 11 people dead and more than 80 injured.
The Kazakh interior ministry has resorted to army units and armored vehicles to subdue the mass riots in the oil city Zhanaozen. The troops to contain a thousand-strong riot were deployed from the army base in the neighboring city of Aktau.
Meanwhile in Aktau another rally was taking place in support of the Zhanaozen activists, according to unconfirmed reports.
There are conflicting reports on how the riots in the oil city Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan started. General Prosecutor Askhat Daulbaev said at an emergency media briefing that the violence was caused by a group armed with melee weapons, which attacked policemen, so that the officers had to fight back. The criminals, according to him, joint the crowd celebrating crowd marking country’s Independence Day and ignited disorder. An on-site investigation headed by Interior Minister Kalmukhadbet Kasymov is underway.
Initially the authorities seemed to be trying to conceal the fact of the violence, but Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general later admitted that according to preliminary data ten people had died in the Zhanaozen unrest and many more wounded, including police officers.
Eyewitnesses say that the police shot live rounds at the protesters to disperse the crowd. According to witness reports in Russian-language blogs the death toll might be as high as 70 with more than 500 injured.
Three buildings have been burnt down, including the offices of the town’s administration, a branch of the Ozenmuinagaz oil company and the nearby Hotel Aruana. Protesters also burnt several cars and a police bus and reportedly looted nearby ATMs.
The electric power supply has been interrupted in Zhanaozen and helicopters have been seen flying over the city, a local news site reports.
The authorities have cut off the cellular and internet networks in the city, so it is impossible to independently verify the figures or eyewitness reports. Twitter and other social networks were also blocked as soon as the violence erupted.
It’s not yet clear if the riot has connection with a seven-month long protest of oil workers Zhanaozen. Hundreds of laid-off workers had been demonstrating in the city demanding that their former employer Ozenmuinagaz paid them risk money. The action was supported by some of their former colleagues, including those working for another company, who wanted their salaries raised.
Some reports say that the violence started because the protesters were disgusted with the planned celebration in the central square, where their camp had been since May, and tried to oust people setting up equipment there. This is confirmed by some videos on the internet and the interior minister also accuses the oil workers of being the main provocateurs of the riot. However organizers of the protest deny any connection with the looting and pillaging that followed.
Tatyana Kuzmina, a local journalist, believes that there could be some outside forces trying to destabilize the situation in the country.
“It looks like this is being led from the outside,” she told RT. “This could be external forces, like other countries’ intelligence or local forces who are interested in overthrowing the government and changing the regime.”
Kazakhstan has been marking the 20th anniversary of its independence on Friday, December 16, and celebrations were planned throughout the country. According to the prosecutor general, some people in Zhanaozen – mostly of young men – began to shout slogans and shortly afterwards started to damage property, beat up guards and set about causing large-scale riots.