Sun, Dec 18, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Some oil workers in Kazakhstan stay home after clashes

Reuters, ALMATY

Some employees of KazMunaiGas Exploration Production are staying away from work because they fear for their safety after violent clashes killed at least 10 people in a western Kazakh oil city, the company said yesterday.

London-listed KMG EP said the Kazakh Ministry of Interior Affairs was providing armed security at key oil production facilities following the clashes on Friday, when a crowd set fire to the headquarters of its Uzenmunaigas unit in the city of Zhanaozen.

The company said in a statement it was maintaining daily oil production levels by keeping employees working round the clock.

AFRAID

“Some Uzenmunaigas workers failed to appear for the night shift and the morning shift on Dec. 16 and 17,” KMG EP said. “This can be explained by the fact workers are afraid for their own security and the security of their family members.”

Public protests are scarce in Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest economy and oil producer, where Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled with a firm hand for more than 20 years and has overseen massive foreign investment, mainly in oil and gas.

The unusually violent clashes in Zhanaozen, a city of 90,000 people about 150km inland from the Caspian Sea, marred celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union.

SACKED WORKERS

Sacked oil workers clashed with riot police in the city’s central square. Ten people were killed and buildings and cars set on fire, Kazakh Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev said.

Some KazMunaiGas EP workers began a months-long strike in May, demanding better pay and conditions. The company, which said the strikes were illegal, sacked 989 workers, but sporadic protests have been held in the town since the strike ended.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said at least some mobile phone and Internet access had been shut down in Zhanaozen and called on the Kazakh government to observe “human rights norms” as they restored order.

VULNERABLE

“Without a means of communication with the outside world, people in Zhanaozen are extremely vulnerable,” Human Rights Watch central Asia researcher Mihra Rittmann said.

“Even in times of unrest and violence, when police restore order they should do so without using excessive force,” she said in a statement.

The rights body also said about 100 people were detained and later released after a peaceful rally in the regional center of Aktau, a larger city on the Caspian coast.

Daulbayev said investigators led by the interior minister had traveled to Zhanaozen on the orders of the president “to take all necessary measures to preclude further criminal acts, identify and punish organizers of the disorder and restore public security in the town.”

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