ANALYSIS-Clashes in oil region threaten Kazakh leader

Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:08pm GMT

* Clashes, protests threaten Nazarbayev's authority

* Pressure mounts for change in ex-Soviet republic

* Nazarbayev has long ruled with an iron grip

By Dmitry Solovyov and Mariya Gordeyeva

ALMATY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Riots by oil workers in western Kazakhstan suggest pressure is mounting for President Nursultan Nazarbayev to relax the rigid authoritarian system he has built in the vast Central Asian state, which is fast losing its veneer of stability.

Officials say 14 people were killed in Friday's clashes following the dismissal of oil workers in Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan and another person was killed when violence spread to a nearby village on Saturday. It was a local crisis that had long been simmering and local authorities had failed to master.

"People want to be heard, but there are no mechanisms which would allow people to be heard...This results in such brutal methods," Kazakh political analyst Aidos Sarym said. "Zhanaozen actually threatened the unity of our nation."

"In general, there is a need to slacken the reins. Public mechanisms are needed. There are things which should be discussed in parliament," he said. "There must be modernisation of society, of the political system."

Nazarbayev, a 71-year-old former steelworker, has ruled the oil-producing steppe nation since Soviet times and overseen rapid market reforms crowned with fast economic growth and more than $120 billion in foreign direct investment.   Continued...

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