Ten people have been in clashes between striking oil workers and police at a ceremony marking Kazakhstan's independence day in the western city of Zhanaozen, prosecutors have said.
The buildings of the local admistration, hotels and energy firm Uzenmunaigas facility were set on fire, Askhat Daulbayev, the prosecutor general was quoted as saying by the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency on Friday.
"According to preliminary information, 10 people were killed as a result of the mass riots in Zhanaozen. There are also wounded, including police," he said from the capital Astana.
"The city hall, hotels, Uzenmunaigas offices were set on fire. Private and corporate property was also damaged, cars set on fire and ATMs robbed," he added.
Workers in Zhanaozen and other cities in the Mangistau region on the Caspian Sea have been striking for months for higher wages, in a highly unusual dispute for the Central Asian state which prides itself on its stability.
'Shocking and surprising'
Robin Forestier-Walker, a freelance journalist based in Almaty, said that the number of deaths 'was shocking' and 'surprising'.
"Western Kazakstan is the oil hub of the country, it has enormous oil reserves with a lot of town built around these oil installations and Zhanaozen is one of them. Since the early summer, these strikers have been protesting over pay conditions and they got fired."
"They took over the square in this city and they have been holding it ever since ... they were determined to stay there to see this through.It seems that today was the day the authorities chose to come and force them off," he said.
Robin said that local television stations are not reporting the situation which appears to be rather tense.
"There have been a number of incidents over the past few months, but this appears to have been the tipping point and it is difficult to tell what will happen next," he said.
Zhanaozen is a town of 90,000 people about 150 km inland from the Caspian Sea.
Social networking websites said that some local people had heard shooting in Zhanaozen. Staff at the local central hospital declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|