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Article

8 Jan 2022

Author:
Ivan Nechepurenko,
Author:
Andrew Higgins,
Author:
New York Times

Kazakhstan: Oil workers at the forefront of protests, citing rising inflation and stagnant salaries

In Kazakhstan’s Street Battles, Signs of Elites Fighting Each Other, 8 January 2022

It came as no big surprise when a crumbling oil town in western Kazakhstan stirred in protest last Sunday, 10 years after security forces there killed more than a dozen workers who had gone on strike over pay and poor conditions.

But it remains a mystery how peaceful protests over a rise in fuel prices last weekend in Zhanaozen, a grimy, Soviet-era settlement near the Caspian Sea, suddenly spread more than a thousand miles across the full length of Central Asia’s largest country, turning the biggest and most prosperous Kazakh city into a war zone littered with dead bodies, burned buildings and incinerated cars.

The violence this week in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital and still its business and cultural hub, shocked just about everyone — not only its leader, who, fortified by Russian troops, on Friday ordered security forces to “fire without warning” to restore order, but also government critics who have long bridled at repression and rampant corruption in the oil-rich nation...

The roots of that discontent are in places like Zhanaozen, the western oil town where this week’s protests began — and where security forces in December 2011 opened fire on a group of striking workers. Unlike protests in Almaty, those in Zhanaozen and other western towns along the Caspian Sea, the center of the Kazakh oil industry, have been peaceful throughout the week...

Mukhtar Umbetov, a lawyer for the independent trade union in Aktau, next to Zhanaozen, said by telephone that protests had continued with no violence in the west of the country, and expressed the anger of ordinary workers over rising inflation and stagnant salaries.

“Kazakhstan is a rich country,” Mr. Umbetov said, “but these resources do not work in the interests of the people, they work in the interests of the elites. There is a huge stratification of society.”...

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