Police in Astana on April 11 detained more than 80 oil workers from Kazakhstan’s volatile southwestern town of Zhanaozen, who journeyed to the capital to demand jobs.
The workers organised the protest after their company lost an oil tender in the energy-rich western region of Mangystau that would have provided work. Officials in Kazakhstan are still very much on edge about demonstrations and any sign of wider unrest following the “Bloody January” events of last year in which at least 238 people were killed. That unrest was triggered by initial demonstrations in the town of Zhanaozen over a fuel price hike. Zhanaozen is also known for its December 2011 oil workers’ strike, which led to the “Zhanaozen massacre”, with at least 14 of the workers killed by police who opened fire in the city square.
Prior to the arrests in Astana, workers demanded jobs at OzenMunaiGaz, a subsidiary of state energy giant KazMunaiGaz.
Artur Alkhasov of the Kazakh Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law told RFE/RL that more than 80 former workers of BerAli Manghystau Company were detained after they spent a night in front of the energy ministry.
Last week, dozens of women in Zhanaozen staged a protest demanding permanent jobs for their sons and husbands, while hundreds of former oil industry employees gathered in front of OzenMunaiGaz offices to demand employment.
Following the April 11 police crackdown on the protest in Astana, Eurasianet reported that anger over the authorities’ response spread quickly in Mangystau, with workers at several oil companies declaring wildcat strikes and spontaneous marches taking place in the city of Aktau and Zhanaozen. In Zhanaozen, large numbers of local people were said to have assembled in front of the city hall to call for the release of picketers detained in Astana.
Mangystau governor Nurlan Nogayev issued a late-night address to urge the public not to engage in any activities that might cause instability.
“We must understand that this situation must be resolved within the framework of the law. We all want stability and certainty in the future,” Nogayev said.
Internet and phone signals were reportedly patchy in Zhanaozen. Observers took that as a sign that the authorities were anxious that protests could escalate and spread.