Ethnic Unrest Flares in Soviet South as Protesters Denounce Shortages
MOSCOW — UNREST, this time apparently caused by food shortages and economic privation, has flared up in another part of the Soviet south - the oil town of Novy Uzen, in Kazakhstan. Four days of riots are said to have resulted in three fatalities, and Interior Ministry troops and police reinforcements have been sent to the area.
The rioting follows close on the heels of ethnic unrest in Uzbekistan and nationalist demonstrations earlier in the year in Georgia, where Soviet troops killed 20 people.
Speaking only with the greatest reluctance, a member of the Novy Uzen Communist Party Committee said in a phone interview Tuesday morning that a curfew had been imposed on the city of 60,000. But, he insisted, the situation was ``normal.''
Other reports from the area indicate that some form of crowd-control gas was used to quell the disturbances.
The rioters' grievances - high prices, rationing, unemployment - are exactly the complaints that many economists fear could trigger unrest throughout the country.
The Novy Uzen violence comes only days after five leading economists warned that, if the economic conditions in the Soviet Union do not improve over the next 18 months to two years, the country could find itself faced with social ``destabilization.''
The Novy Uzen official cited above repeatedly refused to give any details about rationing in his town, but eventually claimed that limits on some foodstuffs had been introduced a month ago.
Asked what was being rationed, he once again evaded the question.
Finally another voice interrupted our conversation: ``The same things as in Moscow.''
Contacted by phone Tuesday morning, a staffer from Prikaspiiskaya Kommuna, a newspaper in Gurev, a large city 220 miles north of Novy Uzen, gave a slightly different picture. Meat and sausage had been rationed in her city for several years, she said, and sugar restrictions were introduced on the first of June.
The food situation in larger cities like Gurev is usually considerably better than in smaller towns, especially those like Novy Uzen, founded in 1968 at the start of the western Kazakhstan oil boom.
Trouble started in Novy Uzen on June 16, when rival gangs clashed in a discoth`eque. The disturbances spread to the streets, with rioters protesting food rationing and price increases, and claiming that outsiders working in the oil industry received higher wages than locals.
The root cause of the high prices, the demonstrators reportedly claimed, were local cooperatives. These have been blamed in other parts of the country - incorrectly in the view of economic reformers - for inflation and scarce foodstuffs.
Tension in the city was aggravated by a high unemployment rate among young people, according to the main youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The unrest was ``localized,'' official reports say, but then broke out again shortly afterward. The city police headquarters and the municipal waterworks, as well as a liquor store and several cooperatives were attacked, and vehicles were burned.
Interior Ministry spokesman Boris Mikhailov told a Moscow news conference Tuesday that the deaths occurred when crowds of Kazakh youths ran riot through Novy Uzen, attacking immigrants from the Caucasus, smashing store windows, and burning cars.
``Since the start of the trouble, three people have died, and 53 have been injured. Seven cars were set on fire, and 14 state buildings ransacked. A total of 57 people have been detained,'' Colonel Mikhailov said.