Ten people have died during clashes between striking oil workers and police and government troops in a small town in western Kazakhstan, according to reports.

“[They] were killed as a result of mass disorder. There are also some wounded, including police officers, Kazakh Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev told a news conference.

The deaths occurred as police sought to clear out the central square in the town of Zhanaozen which had been occupied by the striking workers for more than six months and who are demanding higher wages.

BBC reported that local officials denied accusations by some eyewitnesses who said police fired on the unarmed protesters.
The lawbreakers attacked policemen, toppled the New Year tree, destroyed yurts [tents] and a scene laid out for the holiday and set a police bus on fire, Daulbayev added.

As a result of the mass disorder, the buildings of the town administration, a hotel and the administration building of [the oil company] Uzenmunaigas were torched. Property of private persons and companies was also destroyed. Cars were burned and ATMs plundered.

Daulbayev added a criminal probe was opened into the clashes which he said resulted from criminal actions.

Ironically, the killings occurred on the 20th anniversary of the Central Asian republic’s independence from the former Soviet Union – an event being celebrated across the nation.

A leading opposition figure Vladimir Kozlov told K-Plus, a local TV station: The fact that the [strikers] have been standing on the square for seven months and not leaving irritates [the government]. They haven't used DDT [pesticide] yet, but they have tried all other means. They are still standing. This irritates the authorities the most.

Kazakhstan, which has been tightly ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev for more than two decades, has the world’s 11th largest oil reserves. The country is bordered by China on the east, Uzbekistan on the south, and Russia to the north and east, and almost never witnessed any kind of unrest until recently.

The country of just under 17 million people has also been subject to a spate of attacks by Islamic militants.

The oil sector is the key to the country’s economy, but the sector has faced a series of strikes with workers asserting they deserve higher pay due to the danger of their jobs.