Kazakh oil region riots leave 15 dead

Kazakh oil region riots leave 15 dead Astana: Fifteen people have died in clashes in Kazakhstan's oil-rich Mangistau region, prosecutors said Monday, in a blow to a nation that prides itself on years of energy-fuelled stability.

One person was killed and 11 wounded in fresh violence yesterday when protesters blocking a passenger train clashed with police in the village of Shetpe, General Prosecutor Nurdaulet Suindikov said in a statement.

Those riots followed violence in the city of Zhanaozen, in the same western region, on Friday when police and laid-off oil workers clashed during the country's independence day celebrations.

Prosecutors said Sunday 14 people died in Zhanaozen, updating the previous death toll of 13.

The unprecedented riots forced Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev to declare a 20-day state of emergency in Zhanaozen and deal a blow to a governmnet which prides itslef on attracting foreign investors.

Earlier this year Kazakhstan government said it hired former British prime minister Tony Blair to help modernise the ex-Soviet state.

Authorities said Sunday they had the situation in both towns under control.

"The situation in Zhanaozen is gradually becoming normal," Suindikov said. "The situation in the village of Shetpe has stabilised."

On Saturday, a group in Shetpe, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the regional center Aktau, stopped a train with more than 360 passengers in a show of support for the protesters in Zhanaozen, prosecutors said.

Some 50 people ignored police calls to disperse, set the train on fire and proceeded to vandalise the village. "Police were forced to open fire," killing one person, a prosecutors' statement said.

On Friday, clashes with police broke out in Zhanaozen when people sporting oil workers' uniforms toppled a Christmas tree and sound equipment set up on the city's main square for Independence Day festivities.

Workers in Zhanaozen and other cities in the Mangistau region on the Caspian Sea have been on strike for months for higher wages.

Officials led by Nazarbayev dismissed the rioters as "hooligans," alleging they had been paid to destabilise the region and attack peaceful residents.

Kyrgyzstan-based opposition channel K-Plus claimed Sunday that the violence was sparked when police drove a bus into a crowd of protesting oil workers in Zhanaozen to disperse their sit-in. It claimed about 70 people were killed and 500 wounded.