Holding signs with the slogan, “Don’t Shoot the People,” hundreds of oil workers in the city of Aktau in western Kazakhstan protested today against a recent police crackdown on striking workers, the New York Times reported. Clashes with police on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17 caused the deaths of at least 14 striking workers and wounded dozens more.
Thousands of oilmen had been on strike in the Mangistau region since May, demanding wage increases, Reuters reported. On Friday in the city of Zhanaozen, police fired on protesters in the central square, killing at least 13, the New York Times reported.
According to the New York Times:
The workers in Zhanaozen appear to have grown angry when officials began installing holiday decorations for a government-sponsored children’s party, which they felt was a ruse to remove them from the square, witnesses said. Officials said the police were forced to open fire after they came under attack by “hooligans,” some armed with stones and gasoline bombs.
Interior Minister Kalmukhambet Kasymov said the police had no choice but to fire their weapons, The Associated Press reported. “Nobody specifically gave the order to open fire in that situation,” he told the AP. “Every police officer took the decision themselves. When they take a weapon off you, there is no need for an order to be issued.”
After the clash in the square, Kasymov said, the crowd raged throughout the city, setting fire to the mayor’s office, a hotel, the UzenMunaiGas oil company headquarters and the local branch of the governing Nur Otan party.
On Saturday, one person was killed when police fired on several hundred protesters who blocked railroad tracks in the nearby city of Shetpe, the New York Times reported.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chairperson-in-office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, expressed dismay at the way the situation was handled, the AP reported. “Any action to control crowds by law enforcement should be proportionate and in line with international human rights standards,” he said in a statement.
On Dec. 17, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared a three-week state of emergency for Zhanaozen, the AP reported.
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