Sunday, January 08, 2012

Blair caught up in blood and oil row in Kazakhstan

ARE there no limits to Tony Blair's energies and expertise? Middle East "peace envoy", £2 million a year adviser and rep for JP Morgan's bank, and more recently consultant to Kazakhstan's president Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose central Asian state doesn't just provide a butt for Ali G .'s ignorance-thriving humour but also produces oil, coal and other useful resources, including uranium.

Throw in writing a book, lecturing and appearing on TV not to mention the Iraq war inquiry (alas not yet a war crimes trial) and our ex-New Labour prime minister must really have his work cut out. And to think how I thought I was doing well some years back with a warehouse job, a weekend paper stall and penning unpaid articles for lefty publications. Needs must when the devil drives, and I guess the ex-PM's pension is not much when you've got more than one home and send your kids to private schools.

Blair's jobs are not just sinecures. His work for JP Morgan may be classed as part time but it did involve six trips to Libya no less for talks with the late Colonel. His work for the ex-Soviet republic of Kazakhstan's president places him in the company of princes, from Andrew to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, so you can't go worrying him about "principles".

But now questions are being asked about the Blair billions and where they come from, not to say just where they go, at the same time as his latest client is in serious trouble.

Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General's Office has launched a criminal investigation into actions taken by police during riots earlier this month in the western city of Zhanaozen that left more than a dozen protesters dead. Nurdaulet Suindikov, a spokesman for the office, told reporters in Astana that the investigation would seek to determine whether individual police abused their powers by firing on protesters with the intention of killing them.

According to official figures, at least 16 people were killed and more than 100 were injured, including 17 police officers, during the unrest, when sacked oil workers clashed with police guarding official "independence" celebrations. Unofficial figures put the number of protesters killed or wounded as much higher.

Amateur videos posted to the Internet by residents of Zhanaozen appeared to show police firing at people as they fled the scene of the protest, contradicting official claims that police only fired into the air or ground and only in self-defense. Before the inquiry was announced it was reported that police were pursuing investigations, not to identify those responsible for shooting demonstrators but to find those responsible for shooting the videos.

Umirzak Shukeev, the head of a government task force created to restore order in Zhanaozen announced on December 28 that a 20-day curfew imposed on the city in the wake of the violence would be extended. He did not say how long the special police measures would remain in effect.

Journalists and internet activists were arrested in raids, and on December 29, authorities announced that more than two dozen opposition activists had been detained as part of the prosecutor-general's investigation. Interfax reported that some of the detainees could face charges of arson and looting.

Impoverished oil workers in Zhanaozen and other parts of the Manghystau region have been holding peaceful protests since May, demanding better wages, improved working conditions, and greater rights. Many were fired by their employees -- subsidiaries of the state-controlled KazMunaiGaz company -- over the summer. Among thos arrested have been workers who blocked a railway line.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who visited the remote region last week, accused energy officials and the local government of failing to address the protesting oil workers' demands.
Nazarbaev fired his powerful son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, as the chairman of Samruk-Kazyna, which controls almost all of Kazakhstan's major businesses, including oil and gas firms. He also fired the governor of Manghystau Oblast and the KazMunaiGaz board director. A state of emergency is in place in Janaozen until January 5.

Denying that workers' grievances had anything to do with what happened on December 16, however, Nazarbaev backed the heavy-handed response, saying the “police were carrying out their duty and acted legally within their authority”.

Western powers interested in Kazakhstan's resources as well as its central strategic position are likely to be concerned by the former Soviet republic's reported moves back into closer economic relations with the Russian Federation and Belarus. They are also anxious not to see a movement with parallels to the "Arab Spring" taking this country into political uncertainty. For this reason they may not want to be too closely associated with Nazarbaev if they fear he may fall.

Nazarbaev was reportedly hoping that Tony Blair's advice could help him secure a Nobel peace prize. He might have reconsidered his confidence in our ex-prime minister having seen what use all those meetings with Blair were to Colonel Gaddaffi in the end .

On Kazakh trade unions:

Blair's connections:

Socialist Party/Committee for a Workers International reports:

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