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Kazakhstan riots spread as police 'fire on protests'

By Shaun Walker in Moscow

At least 14 people have been shot dead in clashes in Kazakhstan, after protests by striking oil workers turned violent this weekend.

Riots started in the remote town of Zhanaozen after hundreds of protesters went on the rampage ahead of a planned concert to celebrate 20 years of Kazakh independence. Authorities said that 13 people had been killed in Zhanaozen and more than 80 injured, but witnesses at the scene said the real number could be much higher. They said riot police with automatic weapons had opened fire on unarmed protesters.

State television gave little hint of what was happening, instead broadcasting upbeat footage of Independence Day celebrations in other cities. President Nursultan Nazarbayev tolerates little dissent, and has put stability before democratic reform. Billions of pounds have flooded into the country in lucrative oil deals, but critics say corruption is rife.

On Friday afternoon, locals in Zhanaozen, angry at job cuts by an oil company, attacked the stage that had been set up for an Independence Day concert and set fire to government buildings. Officials said the police fired shots in self defence.

On Saturday, the trouble spread as protesters blocked the railway tracks in Shetpe, about 60 miles from Zhanaozen. When some of the protesters began to throw Molotov cocktails, police opened fire, killing one and injuring several. In the regional capital Aktau, hundreds of protesters faced off against riot police yesterday, complaining about the government response to the protest.

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