* Second day of trial into oil town violence
* Tearful relatives say accused are innocent
* Kazakh authorities promise fair hearing
By Dmitry Solovyov
AKTAU, Kazakhstan, March 28 Timid and tearful,
relatives of those accused of rioting in a windswept Kazakh oil
town had one message from inside the makeshift courtroom: "If
only the West could hear us."
Most hold little hope for the 37 defendants who went on
trial this week accused of participating in clashes in December
that killed at least 14 people and saw police use live rounds in
the oil town of Zhanaozen.
The violence has posed the most serious challenge to
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a 71-year-old former steelworker
who rose through the ranks of the Soviet Communist party, in his
more than two decades in charge of the resource-rich nation.
The strongman leader of Central Asia's largest economy
remains popular across the predominantly Muslim nation of 16.7
million people for the sustained economic growth and stability
he has brought in an otherwise volatile region.
But 2,600 km (1,625 miles) and a time-zone to the west of
his glitzy and futuristic capital Astana, belief is waning
inside the converted youth centre in the Caspian port city of
Aktau, where the mass trial began on Tuesday.
"I don't believe him (Nazarbayev) any more. The main values
proclaimed by Kazakhstan's constitution - freedom of expression,
of the press and above all human life - are empty words here,"
said an elderly man whose nephew is standing trial.
Like most relatives of the accused, he declined to give his
name. "If only the West could hear us," he said. "Could you
please explain to me why they use tear gas against protesters in
the West, while here they killed people?"
A sombre relative took him by the elbow and led him aside.
"He has twice been warned by the KNB not to talk too much," he
said, referring to the Kazakh successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Kazakh authorities have promised a transparent investigation
and a fair trial open to media and observers. Foreign Ministry
spokesman Roman Vassilenko on Tuesday called for calm and said
due process must be allowed to be followed.
Ryskul was among a group of 20 relatives attempting to watch
the trial of her 37-year-old brother. Only a few of them managed
to enter the cramped courtroom after elbowing their way through
a crowd at a metal barrier guarding the entrance.
"Tell the West, the European Parliament and others that they
should defend us. Here, we have nothing to hope for now," she
said, hand in hand with her two youngest children.
A group of her elderly female relatives sat nearby in the
shadow of the court's walls, eating traditional Kazakh
flatbread, boiled eggs and sausage.
Timur, 13-year-old son of Ryskul's brother, said: "This is
our support group. My father is innocent and he must be freed."
'OUT INTO THE SQUARE'
The riots erupted on the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's
independence from the Soviet Union and followed a months-long
protest by local oil workers fired after going on strike in an
attempt to win higher wages for their work on the salty steppe.
Kazakhstan, where Nazarbayev has overseen rapid market
reforms, enjoys higher living standards than its neighbours.
But intolerance of dissent has led authorities periodically
to shut down some social Internet networks and muzzle critical
media. Several opposition activists have been jailed since the
riots in Zhanaozen.
Roza Tuletayeva was one of four main instigators of the mass
protests in the main square on Dec. 16, a prosecutor told the
court on Wednesday, accusing her of sending text messages on the
eve of the riot urging people to take to the streets next day.
Ten minutes before 10 o'clock next morning, she sent a
message saying: 'Everybody out into the square!', the prosecutor
read in his indictment speech.
"A car was burnt down at 1300 and then she sent a message:
'Let's start it!' They had deliberately planned these
disturbances," the prosecutor said.
Tuletayeva's daughter, Aliya, gave another version. "My
mother gave too many truthful interviews, and for that she was
listed as one of the instigators," she said outside the court.
Roza's mother, Damish, burst into tears: "I would like to
tell you how it was in reality, but I can't. I will only make
life harder for my daughter."
Many residents of Zhanaozen say authorities were culpable
for their failure to address the strikers' grievances.
. They also question why police opened fire.
The authorities say police were forced to resort to lethal
force after being attacked by violent protesters.
Prosecutors told the trial that protesters had pelted police
with stones and that some defendants had injured up to 13
officers. Two defendants were charged with setting a hotel and
the private cottage of an oil firm director on fire, inflicting
damage worth nearly $7 million.
(Editing by Robin Paxton)