Almaty, 28 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- An RFE/RL correspondent today reports that police tried to prevent former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin from leaving on a trip abroad.
Our correspondent says Kazhegeldin had his passport taken away by police at Almaty airport as he was about to board a flight to Frankfurt yesterday from where he planned to fly to Washington.
Police returned Kazhegeldin's passport only after a foreign reporter approached the checkpoint apparently intending to film the incident. After a half-hour delay, the former premier finally left on his trip.
Kazhegeldin last week formally announced that he will run for president in elections scheduled for January. He is considered the main contender to incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who also has announced his bid for reelection. Earlier this month, a court in Almaty convicted Kazhegeldin on a charge of taking part in demonstrations of an unregistered organization. He was fined the equivalent of about $40. The trial was held in Kazhegeldin's absence.
Kazhegeldin appealed the verdict and the case was sent back for additional investigation. Yesterday the court decided that Kazhegeldin should have attended the trial, therefore the former premier now faces a new charge of disrespect for the court, which could carry a sentence of 15 days in jail.
Under Kazakh law, Kazhegeldin could be barred from taking part in the presidential election for having a criminal record.