* Oil workers state new protests in western region
* 15 killed in earlier clashes
* Nazarbayev presses on with visit to Moscow
* Zhanaozen bloodshed an end to "beautiful epoch" - analyst
By Robin Paxton
AKTAU, Kazakhstan, Dec 19 Hundreds of oil
workers held a third day of protests in the capital of
Kazakhstan's western oil-producing region on Monday, after at
least 15 people were killed in the Central Asian state's
deadliest riots in decades.
About 400 protesters confronted lines of police, some of
whom were armed with automatic rifles, in the main square of
Aktau, the capital of the Mangistau region where the clashes
"We are not looters!" read one of the protesters' banners in
response to an accusation by the former Soviet republic's
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has run the vast
oil-producing nation of 16.6 million people since Soviet days,
has declared a state of emergency in Zhanaozen, a Mangistau oil
town where the firing of oil workers sparked clashes on Friday.
Officials said 14 people were killed in Friday's clashes
with police in Zhanaozen. One person was killed in the village
of Shetpe in the same region on Saturday and a total of about
100 people were wounded in the violence.
The authorities blamed the clashes in Zhanaozen on
"hooligans and looters and oilmen who joined them", saying they
torched dozens of official and private buildings and cars, and
plundered bank cash-machines. Security forces are out in force.
"One of the main demands is to withdraw troops from
Zhanaozen," Kenzhegali Suyeov, the head of the region's
independent trade union, said.
Zhanna Oishibayeva, adviser to the Mangistau governor, said
the protesting oil workers had met senior Aktau officials on
Monday, demanding an increase in their wages.
"They also asked city authorities why civilians had been
shot in Zhanaozen," she told Reuters. "The rally is being held
peacefully, there are no clashes."
"BEAUTIFUL EPOCH" OVER?
The latest outbreaks of violence and rallies are
unprecedented in modern Kazakhstan, where Nazarbayev enjoys
sweeping powers and brooks no dissent.
The 71-year-old former steelworker has overseen rapid market
reforms and massive foreign investment, but has put democratic
reforms on hold, saying that he treasures "stability and
harmony" in his multi-ethnic country.
"What happened is an end to the 'beautiful epoch', as
Nursultan Nazarbayev's reign had been presented to the world
before," Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based Central Asia pundit, told
"The myth of a stable Kazakhstan thriving under his wise
leadership has vanished. Kazakhstan still remains an
economically successful country, but one can no longer say that
this country is stable politically."
The suppression of the riots has featured a lot on social
networking sites in Kazakhstan. Protesters have picketed
Kazakhstan's embassies in Moscow and London, and a rare
opposition protest has been held in Kazakhstan's commercial
capital and biggest city, Almaty.
About 12 demonstrators were detained by police on Monday as
they tried to deliver an open letter in support of Zhanaozen
workers to Nazarbayev's palace in the capital Astana.
"Don't shoot people" and "Blood is cheaper than oil", read
Nazarbayev has promised to hold a transparent investigation
into the Zhanaozen bloodshed.
But as Nazarbayev arrived in Moscow on a two-day visit on
Monday, Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov maintained the
official line, saying "bandits" had sparked the riots.
"An oilmen's work dispute should by no means be confused
with illegal acts by criminal elements trying to use it in their
criminal interests," Russian news agencies quoted Kazykhanov as
telling reporters on the sidelines of the visit.
(Additional reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva in Astana and
Mariya Gordeyeva in Almaty; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing
by Peter Graff)