SHETPE, Kazakhkstan — Police opened fire on rioters in a town in the tense southwest of Kazakhstan, leaving one person dead and 11 wounded, authorities said Sunday.
A statement from the Prosecutor General’s office said the violence occurred Saturday in the town of Shetpe, in the same region as the city of Zhanaozen where 13 people died in a clash with police on Friday.
Shetpe was flooded with police Sunday afternoon. Nervous-looking policemen were patrolling the streets. Some of them tried to restrict the movement of a group of visiting journalists, threatening one of them with a gun.
The statement said about 300 demostrators supporting the Zhanaozen victims blocked railroad traffic for several hours and after police tried to force them away, a group of about 50 set a locomotive on fire, then moved into the town where they broke windows and set the municipal Christmas tree ablaze. The statement did not specify at what point police opened fire.
Zhanaozen has been the site of a sit-in by oil workers seeking higher wages. Many of those workers were fired over the summer.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry laid responsibility for the clashes on a small group of provocateurs allegedly set on disrupting a public celebration marking the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence.
In the regional capital of Aktau, several hundred former oil workers rallied Sunday morning in front of the mayor’s office to show their support for the workers in Zhanaozen and Shetpe. Police cordoned off the area to keep the protesters from drawing a larger crowd. Dozens of people injured in Zhanaozen are now being treated in Aktau hospitals.
Ruslan Shakhimov, a former employee of the local oil company Karazhanbasmunai, told the Associated Press that he came out to rally to show “solidarity with those workers killed in Zhanaozen.”
“We have no rights, we’re being treated like cattle,” Shakhimov said, explaining the workers’ indignation.
Dozens of casualties from Zhanaozen have been taken to Aktau and other cities. Nurlan Bukhanov, deputy chief of the local hospital, told the AP that they have received 38 people for treatment.
Kazakhstan’s president on Saturday imposed a three-week state of emergency in Zhanaozen. Cellular telephone and Internet connections in the city have been out of service since the Friday violence, making independent verification of the security situation impossible.
Three Russian journalists were briefly detained in Zhanaozen on Sunday, according to Kommersant, the employer of the two reporters. Ilya Azar, a correspondent with the Lenta.ru website, wrote in his Twitter than he and his Kommersant colleagues have been released and are now out of town.