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May 18, 2012, 02.42 PM IST | Source: Reuters

Kazakh court sentences policeman in riot trial

KAZAKHSTAN-TRIAL:Kazakh court sentences policeman in riot trial

By Robin Paxton

ALMATY (Reuters) - A court in Kazakhstan sentenced a police officer to five years in jail on Thursday for his actions during last year's deadly riots that shook the Central Asian country's image of stability.

Zhenisbek Temirov became the first person to be convicted over Kazakhstan's worst violence in decades when a city court found him guilty of holding people illegally in a detention centre in the oil town of Zhanaozen.

Thirty-seven people are standing a separate trial over the December clashes that killed at least 14 people and saw police use live rounds in Zhanaozen and the nearby village of Shetpe.

The violence posed the most serious challenge to President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his two decades of rule and followed a months-long protest by local oil workers fired after striking in an attempt to win higher wages.

Among other charges, a court in the regional centre of Aktau, 145 km (95 miles) west of Zhanaozen, found Temirov guilty of failing to allow medical care for a 50-year-old man who died in hospital after being held in the detention centre.

"Temirov, in the knowledge that one of those held illegally - (Bazarbai) Kenzhebayev - required medical aid, did not take the requisite measures, which resulted in the death of the latter," the Mangistau regional court said in a statement.

Many residents of Zhanaozen and Aktau say authorities were culpable for their failure to address the oil workers' grievances and question why police opened fire on protesters.

Zhanaozen was placed under a state of emergency after the violence on December 16 - the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union - until the end of January.

Authorities say police were forced to resort to lethal force after being attacked by violent protesters, including sacked oil workers. Under scrutiny from the West and rights bodies, they have pledged to hold a fair investigation.

Amirzhan Kosanov, one of the leaders of the opposition All-National Social Democratic Party, said he believed the convicted policeman had been singled out.

"They've found a scapegoat," Kosanov said. "There's no way the leader of one small institution in Aktau could take big political decisions. There were other people there."

Temirov's trial lasted from April 25 until May 11. He was also told to pay 1 million tenge in damages to the dead man's family. He has 15 days to appeal the sentence.

The trial is one of a series in Aktau, a port on the Caspian Sea where relatives have crammed into courtrooms since March to protest the innocence of their family members. More police officers are standing trial separately for abuse of office.

The biggest trial, however, involves 37 accused of crimes including the organisation of mass disorder, arson, destruction of property and the use of violence against the state.

(Additional reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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