Emergency Situation in Kazakhstan

As BBC reports, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Saturday declared a state of emergency in the Caspian town of Zhanaozen after clashes between police and laid-off oil workers killed at least 11 people.

The state of emergency will last until January 5 to “ensure public safety, rebuild law and order, and defend citizens’ rights and freedoms,” said a decree posted on the president’s official website.

As the authorities report, “hooligans” attacked local residents who gathered near a stage set up in the town’s main square for the 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union.  A number of buildings including local government offices, a hotel and the office of the state oil company were set on fire, Kazakhstan’s General Prosecutor Askhat Daulbayev said.

The number of dead varies. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, at least 13 people were killed and another 86 were wounded in clashes between striking oil workers and national police. According to footage on the satellite channel’s YouTube account, around 50 people died.

Many websites, including Twitter, RIA Novosti news agency, and regional agency Lada.kz have been blocked in Kazakhstan since Friday evening. The cell phones of journalists in Aktau, the regional centre about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Zhanaozen, were also blocked.

What happened raises many serious questions. One of the main one is, what reasons did the police have for using firearms against unarmed people?” the opposition National Social Democratic party said in a statement.

The second question why nothing has been done to prevent this incident? For five months, hundreds of workers from the oil fields of western Kazakhstan have been on strike demanding better pay and working conditions.

The director of Ozenmunaigas, an oil field owned by Kazakhstan’s state oil company Kazmunaigas, states their wages have been raised six times. On the other side, the strikers claim the extra pay for working in dangerous conditions, that they have been  promised but never got.

According to the New Socialists of Kazakhstan, “high oil prices on world markets and high unemployment paralyzed the workers’ protest movement. Part of the oil profits were destined to the state budget but also to the corrupt Nazarbaev clan. The rest of the money was used to subsidize the bureaucracy and to build a repressive machine that transformed Kazakhstan into an authoritarian dictatorship”.

But as a result, who won in this situation? It has led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenue. According to BBC, the Zhanaozen strike is one of several industrial actions to have hit western Kazakhstan’s Mangistau region this year.

Workers at Karazhanbasmunai, an oil field jointly owned by Kazmunaigas and a Chinese state corporation, took to the streets in the nearby Caspian port town of Aktao in May. Their protest was also broken up by police. Karazhanbasmunai fired 993 of its workers.The protest also spread to Ersai-Caspian Contractor, an Italian and Kazakh joint-venture operating in the region.

The industrial unrest has hurt Kazmunaigas. It claims production is down by 7% from this time last year – largely because of the strikes. That has cost almost $600m in lost revenue.