Oil strikes prompt emergency in Kazakhstan

Dec. 19, 2011 at 9:10 AM
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ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Protesters in western Kazakhstan expressed solidarity with striking oil workers under what one demonstrator said was the watchful eye of security forces.

At least 13 people were killed and another 86 were wounded in clashes between striking oil workers and national police, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev last weekend imposed a state of emergency in the western oil city of Zhanaozen and blamed "hooligans" for the violence.

Police, he said, opened fire on demonstrators to "protect themselves and local citizens and preserve order."

Oil workers have protested since May, calling for better pay and the right to organize independent labor unions. Clashes escalated Friday as the country celebrated its 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union.

Protesters during recent clashes set fire to a hotel and the regional office of state-run oil company OzenMunaiGaz. The company, RFE/RL reports, said oil production wasn't impacted greatly because of the strikes.

Oil workers continued their strike last weekend despite the government crackdown. One worker, who gave his name to RFE/RL as Esbol, said workers wanted an investigation into the police response.

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