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Kazakh Veto Of Media Law Welcomed

Almaty/Prague, 22 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (pictured) announced today that he has vetoed a controversial bill that would have imposed a new range of restrictions on the country's media.

Speaking before the Eurasian Media Forum, which opened today in Almaty, Nazarbaev said he made the decision after the country's Constitutional Council found the bill violated the Kazakh Constitution.

"Taking into account the opinion of both the public and journalists, I decided not to object to the Constitutional Council's decision. And as such, the new law on mass media has been rejected," Nazarbaev said.

Nazarbaev declined to say whether the bill will be amended and re-submitted for parliamentary approval.

OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis, appearing at the same conference, described Nazarbaev's decision as "very welcome."

Kazakhstan's political opposition and media-rights groups had protested parliament's passage of the media legislation in March. They said the bill's stricter registration and licensing rules amounted to a clampdown on freedom of speech.

"Taking into account the opinion of both the public and journalists, I decided not to object to the Constitutional Council's decision." -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
The OSCE, the European Union, and the United States raised similar concerns.

Speaking yesterday in a video news conference from Washington, Elizabeth Jones, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, reiterated the U.S. concerns.

"We are [articulate] about our concerns about the mass media legislation that has just been passed in Kazakhstan. We are very concerned about some of the other reform issues. We talk all the time in public and private about political reforms. It's going to be extremely important in terms of the development toward elections in Kazakhstan," Jones said.

Attacks on the media, including beatings, intimidation, and lawsuits have caused alarm in the international community.

Free-press advocates today applauded Nazarbaev's veto of the media bill. But at the same time they noted that Kazakh journalists will still come under limitations imposed by the country's new election law.

Critics say the new law, passed by Nazarbaev last week, will restrict the media's coverage of Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections later this year.

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