Investigators Probe Police Shootings in Zhanaozen

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Prosecutors in Kazakhstan have opened an inquiry into the shooting of protestors by police in the western oil town of Zhanaozen on December 16.

Investigators opened the case into the fatal shootings on December 27, the prosecutor’s office announced two days later. Security forces are being investigated for “exceeding authority or official powers with the use of weapons and special tools.”

The move comes amid mounting pressure on Astana to investigate the circumstances of how police came to fire on protestors involved in an industrial dispute in Zhanaozen. The government is already pursuing an inquiry into the overall circumstances of how the protest turned violent, killing 16 people according to the latest death toll, and has invited UN participation. However, this is the first time that officials have specifically instigated a probe into the police for the deaths.

Video posted on YouTube, apparently filmed by a local resident, shows police opening fire directly at retreating demonstrators and beating one protestor lying prone on the ground with truncheons. The police claim to have exonerating video but have yet to produce it.

A blogger who was part of a government-led group tour of Zhanaozen has posted new video of protestors torching the headquarters of the OzenMunayGaz oil company, which was at the center of the industrial dispute that flared into violence, but the film does not show the circumstances which led to police discharging their weapons.

The prosecutor’s office is also investigating allegations of torture of detainees in custody made by Human Rights Watch.

Eighteen people are under arrest and face charges over the deadly riot, investigators say. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has blamed outsiders for stoking the violence, which has blighted Kazakhstan’s reputation as a bastion of stability in volatile Central Asia.

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