Kazakh Independence Ceremony Turns Deadly

Posted December 16th, 2011 at 11:20 am (UTC-5)
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Independence day celebrations in Kazakhstan have been marred by violence, with clashes that killed at least ten people.

The fighting broke out Friday in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen, where oil workers — including some fired from their jobs — have been demanding better wages.

Kazakhstan Prosecutor General Ashkat Daulbayev told reporters Friday that at least 10 people were killed in clashes with police. An earlier statement from his office also said two police officers had been injured.

Officials said the clashes erupted after some of the protesters tore down traditional yurts, or tents, that had been put up in the city's central square. But some protesters told social media networks that they had been surrounded by police, who opened fire.

The sound of what could be gunfire can be heard on video from the scene obtained by the Associated Press, but officials in the capital of Astana denied police fired their weapons.

There are also reports that several buildings have been set on fire.

Friday marks the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence, when it separated from what was then the Soviet Union.

Oil and resource-rich Kazakhstan has been Central Asia's largest and most successful economy. But the mainly Muslim nation of 17 million has seen an increase this year in small-scale bombings and shootouts, many blamed on Islamist extremists.