12/19/2011, 00.00
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Tense calm and strikes in Kazakhstan, after 3 days of clashes and deaths

Protest mounts of oil workers on strike for months in the indifference of the government. The police fire on demonstrators, heavy toll of dead and wounded. The army controls the area, mobile phones and the Internet blocked, dozens of arrests. The authorities speak of common criminals, but the strike continues.
Astana (AsiaNews / Agencies) - There is a tense calm today in Aktau, provincial capital of Mangistau in western Kazakhstan home to 190 thousand inhabitants, after violent clashes between demonstrators and police in recent days, with a heavy toll of dead and wounded. Here yesterday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the town hall, under the close watch of police in riot gear patrolling the main streets.

The clashes erupted on December 16 in the nearby town of Zhanaozen where oil workers on strike for months, took to the streets on the 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union in the country. The mob attacked and tried to set fire to the town hall, the seat of a local oil company and dozens of buildings and vehicles. There were clashes with police and at least 86 dead with 11 injured according to official figures. Eyewitnesses accused the police of having fired on unarmed demonstrators, but the authorities insist they acted only in self-defense. There were at least 70 arrests.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has lead the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, proclaimed 20-day state of emergency on December 17 with curfews, a ban on public meetings and restrictions on freedom of movement. Zhanaozen is "calm": Local sources say that since December 17 the army has blocked the streets surrounding the city with constant armed and helicopter patrols, and a shutdown of internet and mobile phones services.

But the protest spread to the village of Shetpe, where 17 December protesters blocked the railway line. There were further clashes with the police with at least 12 dead and wounded.

The street protests that erupted after months of striking by oil workers, show no sign of abating, even though the authorities seem determined to crush them with the use of force and prevent the spread of news: Ilya Azar and 2 other Russian journalists were arrested yesterday in the area. Released in the evening, they have left the area.

As of yesterday the oil workers of the city of Zhetibai are on strike, taking to the streets demanding "investigations" into the Zhanaozen clashes.

Nazabayev billed the protesters "common criminals" who should not be confused with the oil workers on strike from May to demand better wages and working conditions. Government and state oil companies have taken a hard line, laying off about 1,000 workers and arresting several leaders of the protest, despite losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. In response to these moves hundreds of workers have camped in the streets of Zhanaozen, continuing the protest.

2011 has seen an increase in protests across the country, as well as Zhanaozen. In May, Karazhanbasmunai oilfield workers took to the streets in the port of Akta on the Caspian Sea, exploited by the state owned Kazmunai gas company along with a Chinese state company, the police charged and dispersed the crowd and the company laid off 993 Kazakh employees.
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