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Kazakhstan: Opposition Blames Regime For Sarsenbaev's Death

Altynbek Sarsenbaev at the funeral for opposition leader Zamanbek Nurkadilov last year (RFE/RL) Kazakhstan's opposition group For a Just Kazakhstan held a press conference in Almaty today and claimed that political reasons are behind the death of Altynbek Sarsenbaev. The bodies of Sarsenbaev -- a co-chairman of the Naghyz Ak Zhol opposition party -- his bodyguard, and his driver were found in the Almaty outskirts early on 13 February. The three were shot dead. A former information minister and also the former ambassador to Russia, Sarsenbaev was an outspoken critic of Kazakhstan's current regime.

PRAGUE, 14 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The leader of For a Just Kazakhstan, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, declared that Sarsenbaev's killing was politically motivated.

"Altynbek Sarsenbaev and his two young aides, Baurzhan Baibosyn and Vasily Zhuravliov, died tragically at the hands of murderers," Tuyakbai declared. "They were killed like sheep, like cattle, with their hands tied behind their back. They were shot in the back and then in the back of their heads. That is proof that it was a political murder."

A Result Of Regime's Policy

Sarsenbaev had been missing since late on 11 February. The bodies were found in a mountain gorge near Almaty by local villagers on 13 February.

Tuyakbai ruled out other -- nonpolitical -- reasons behind Sarsenbaev's death, saying that his ally was not involved in business and did not have enemies either in business or criminal circles.

"What was threatening [for authorities] were Altynbek's position, his intellect, and political talent. He was neutralized because he might cause discomfort for the authorities. This is what I believe."

Tuyakbai said Sarsenbaev's political activity with the country's opposition was the only possible explanation for his death.

"This [murder] reflects the current state of the society, of the current regime headed by Mr. [Nursultan] Nazarbaev, and it causes our fear. Because what we see today is a result of the regime's policy."

Sarsenbaev, 43, was one of the strongest members in Kazakhstan's political opposition to President Nazarbaev.

A Resignation In Protest

Sarsenbaev, who was a government official and served as Kazakh ambassador to Russia, joined the opposition in 2003, when he also declared his intention to run for president.

Soon after that he accepted the post of information minister. But he resigned three months later -- after the September 2004 parliamentary polls -- as a way of protesting what he called unfair elections.

He was a member of the Ak Zhol (Bright Path) opposition party until its split in early 2005.

Sarsenbaev and fellow opposition members Bulat Abilov and Oraz Zhandosov formed the Naghyz Ak Zhol (True Bright Path) in April 2005.

Sarsenbaev was subject to government pressure ahead of the presidential elections on 4 December when the incumbent, Nazarbaev, got an overwhelming 91 percent of the vote.

Similar Slaying In December 2005

In summer 2005, Sarsenbaev publicized alleged violations of the law by Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha, in the building of Khabar -- her media empire -- which is the country's most powerful. A court fined him for slandering Khabar.

In November 2005, the opposition alleged that police had beaten two of Sarsenbaev's nephews. The allegation came days after Sarsenbaev was injured in a meeting between the opposition and some citizens at a campaign rally.

Sarsenbaev's alleged murder came exactly three months after the death of Zamanbek Nurkadilov, another whistleblower on Nazarbaev's regime who publicly accused the incumbent president of corruption. He also had threatened to disclose materials proving presidential corruption. Nurkadilov was found dead on 12 November in his Almaty apartment. He had three wound gunshot wounds -- two in the heart and one in the head. The police ruled the incident a suicide.

Bulat Abilov, a cochairman of Naghyz Ak Zhol who identified Sarsenbaev's body at the place where it was found, spoke at today's press conference. He accused the country's security services of being behind the two murders. "We want to state that the authorities are responsible for these murders," he said. "None of them was investigated to its conclusion. It is the country's president, Mr. Nazarbaev, who has a personal responsibility for this."

Abilov's fellow party member from Naghyz Ak Zhol, Tulegen Zhukeev, said it was Sarsenbaev's political activity that bothered government officials. And he ruled out the suggestion that Sarsenbaev was planning to reveal some incriminating information regarding the current regime.

"You can't say Altynbek was murdered because he possessed information that some people feared would be disclosed," Zhukeev said. "What was threatening [for authorities] were Altynbek's position, his intellect, and political talent. He was neutralized because he might cause discomfort for the authorities. This is what I believe. There is no other reason. It is a political issue."

Nazarbaev Orders Investigation

Opposition leaders demanded the government conduct a fair investigation into Sarsenbaev's death. They said they have formed a public committee that will conduct an independent investigation into the killing.

President Nazarbaev, who is currently on vacation, expressed condolences to Sarsenbaev's family and ordered a thorough investigation on 13 February.

Authorities said on 13 February that the investigation is being overseen by Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedjanov.

An Almaty city police department officer, who spoke to RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity, said that an investigation has been launched, though he refused to give details.

Speaking to RFE/RL from Washington today, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Amanda Rogers-Harper called for a fair investigation of Sarsenbaev's killing.

"We call upon Kazakhstan to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the circumstances of [Sarsenbaev's] death, as well as the deaths of the two professional associates whose bodies were found with his," she said.

Nazarbaev's press service announced that a press conference on the opposition figure's death would be held in Astana today. But the event was later cancelled. No reason for its cancellation was given.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)

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