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December 16, 2011

Kazakhstan Declares State of Emergency After Deadly Protests

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has declared a state of emergency in the western town of Zhanaozen, where Kazakhstan's independence celebrations turned deadly.

Nazarbayev issued the presidential decree on Saturday after at least 10 people were killed in clashes between police and oil workers in the Caspian town on Friday. The state of emergency will last until January 5.

Oil workers in Zhanaozen, including some fired from their jobs, have been demanding better wages.

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

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

Friday marked 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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.