Police have opened fire on striking oil workers in Kazakhstan. Independent reports claim that up to seventy people have been killed, and five hundred injured.
At a state run oil refinery in Kazakhstan, at least ten workers have been killed by police in violent clashes over wages, conditions, and the right to form independent political parties. Since the dispute has started the oil company has sacked over 1000 people for taking part.
Oil workers have been protesting since the spring, and have been camping out in a local town square as part of an on-going campaign.
Government officials attempted to remove demonstrators from the town square in order to host a party. However, when they refused to leave, the police opened fire on the crowd. Officials claim that ten people were killed, but journalists at the scene claim to have seen scores of people gunned down. A Russian language blog page has suggested that as many as seventy have been killed, and over 500 people have been injured.
It has been reported that the headquarters of the state run oil company and a local government building have been burnt down, and several police cars have been burnt out. Army armoured vehicles and helicopters are patrolling the city, there is a media blackout, and all social networking sites have been blocked.
“Askhat Daulbayev, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general, said in televised remarks Friday that “having rudely violated the public order, the protesters attacked the policemen, toppled the New Year’s tree, destroyed the yurts placed there because of the holiday, as well as the stage and set a police bus on fire.” The Echo of Moscow radio station reported Friday evening that martial law was imposed and armoured personnel carriers were patrolling the town. Vesti, a Russian television channel, showed video of the smouldering remains of burned cars on the streets.”
The dispute has impacted on oil production and distribution, but has not yet spread to other areas of the oil field.
As well as increases in wages, and safer working conditions, the workers are demanding the release of their lawyer who is currently in jail, and they are demanding the nationalisation of the oil industry.
The government has attempted to turn public opinion against the workers. Ainash Tlekkablov, an advisor to the mayor stated that, “The moment the children came out of the square holding signs and flags, a beastly crowd with sticks and sawed-off pipes set upon them”. The government have not been able to provide any evidence to back up this allegation.
Earlier this year, Sting cancelled a concert in Kazakhstan in solidarity with the striking oil workers.