Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Kazakh opposition groups warned unrest may spread after at least 15 people died in riots that followed Independence Day celebrations in the Central Asian country’s oil-producing province.
Demonstrators rallied in freezing wind today in the regional capital of Aktau to voice support for striking oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen, where earlier protests were centered, Vladimir Kozlov, a leader of the unregistered Alga party, told reporters in Almaty today.
“The authorities continue to ignore peaceful protests in Aktau and create grounds for a repeat of the events that happened in Zhanaozen,” Kozlov said, adding that he returned to Almaty from Aktau this morning. The opposition unveiled a proposal today for an independent probe into the violence.
Clashes in western Kazakhstan spread after the police used arms to suppress unrest in Zhanaozen, where 14 people died in a mass riot on Dec. 16, the worst bout of violence since the former Soviet republic won independence two decades ago. Oil workers at state-owned KazMunaiGaz National Co. units have been striking in Zhanaozen since May over wages.
Reports of “mass bloodshed” are groundless “disinformation spread as provocations,” the Kazakh Prosecutor General’s Office said in statement e-mailed today. No crimes or curfew violations were reported last night in Zhanaozen, where a state of emergency is in effect until Jan. 5.
“Any further significant death toll could have a destabilizing impact in the Mangistau region, and potentially more broadly,” Gemma Ferst, a London-based analyst at Eurasia Group, said by e-mail. “Longer term, the risk is that these events signal a gradual deterioration in the overall business environment in terms of increased costs and security risks.”
Kazakhstan is the second-biggest oil producer in the former Soviet Union following Russia, with output of about 1.6 million barrels a day, about the same as pre-war Libya.
KazMunaiGas EP, the London-listed unit of Kazakhstan’s national energy company, heightened security at its production facilities, which it said weren’t harmed by the rioting, according to a statement Dec. 16. Company employees didn’t take part in the unrest, it said.
KazMunaiGas EP shares rallied as much as 10 percent and were up 9.1 percent at $15 at 3:46 p.m. in London, heading for the biggest gain since May 2010.
Prime Minister Karim Massimov formed a government commission to investigate the reasons for the unrest and assess the damage caused. Massimov ordered his deputy in charge of the commission, Umirzak Shukeyev, to draw up a list of people who lost jobs and are eligible for state assistance, Interfax reported today.
Massimov urged the nation to unite around President Nursultan Nazarbayev to help preserve stability, according to a statement posted on the government’s website today.
Nazarbayev, who has ruled the Central Asian state since 1989, won a new five-year term in April with 95.5 percent of the vote. He was named “leader of the nation” last year, giving him the power to dictate policy even after retirement.
Last month, Kazakhstan dissolved the parliament and set an early election for January. The ruling Nur Otan party, headed by Nazarbayev, won all the seats in parliament in August 2007 legislative elections, which were also unscheduled. The next vote was to be held in mid-2012.
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