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Kazakhstan: Police Disperse Oil Worker Demo, While Officials Plead for Calm

Police in Kazakhstan’s capital engaged in a fresh display of edginess on April 11 when they robustly dispersed several dozen demonstrators who traveled to the capital from an oil-rich western region with demands for well-paid jobs.

Anger over that crackdown spread quickly in Mangystau, the province from which the protestors had traveled. Workers at several oil companies declared wildcat strikes and spontaneous marches took place in the city of Aktau and in the town of Zhanaozen. In Zhanaozen, large numbers of local people are said to have assembled in front of the city hall in a call for the release of picketers detained in Astana.

In a confirmation of the jittery moods among officials, Mangystau governor Nurlan Nogayev issued a late-night address to urge the public to refrain from doing anything that could cause instability.

“We must understand that this situation must be resolved within the framework of the law. We all want stability and certainty in the future,” Nogayev said.

Internet and phone signals were reportedly patchy in Zhanaozen – an evident sign that the authorities are concerned that protests could escalate and spread.

Picketers from Zhanaozen appear to have arrived in the capital, Astana, on April 10 with the aim of holding a sit-in outside the offices of the Energy Ministry.

Their discontent is understood to have been triggered by their recent dismissal from an oil industry services provider called Berali Mangistau Company. The dismissed workers initially picketed the offices of UzenMunaiGaz, the Zhanaozen-based subsidiary of a state-owned energy company for which Berali Mangistau Company did contracting work. After failing to secure reinstatement to their old jobs, the men resolved to travel to Astana.

After the demonstrators refused to leave the plaza outside the Energy Ministry on the second day of their sit-in, masked police in black fatigues encircled the area and a representative from the prosecutor’s office arrived to order those present to disperse or face the consequences of breaking the law on public assemblies. Police eventually closed in on the demonstrators. Video footage of the confrontation that ensued showed police officers jostling with protestors, some of which threw themselves in front of the police buses to block their passage.

At least 20 protestors were detained, according to a reporter with RFE/RL’s Kazakh service.

On this point too, the authorities scrambled to provide reassuring signals. A few hours after the confrontation at the Energy Ministry building, two figures identified as leaders of the protestors – Zholmurat Ulykpanov and Nursultan Nurumuly – appeared in a video appeal circulated online to say that almost all the protesters were being returned to Mangystau and to urge people marching in Zhanaozen to return to their homes. The pair said five representatives from their group would stay behind in Astana to negotiate with the Energy Ministry and state-owned oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz on how to resolve the impasse.

KazMunaiGaz, meanwhile, released a statement to say that striking employees at three of its subsidiary companies – UzenMunaiGaz, UzenMunai Service and Burgylau – had returned to their workstations.

“At [8 p.m.], employees at these companies returned to work. The companies are performing their activities in normal mode,” KazMunaiGaz said in a statement.

As of late April 11, it remained unclear that any of these measures and signals had had the requisite effect. One news outlet, Vlast, reported that demonstrators in Aktau and Zhanaozen were refusing to disperse until they had received definitive confirmation that detained oil workers had been released by the police.

Source : Eurasianet

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