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Kazakhstan: Opposition Group Denied Registration

Alga leader Asylbek Kozhakhmetov (file photo) (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, June 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan's Supreme Court today upheld a lower court's decision to deny the Alga (Onward) opposition party registration.

"The Supreme Court's collegium [for civil affairs] decided not to satisfy our request on our registration, and [instead] supported the previous decision of the [Astana] City Court," Alga leader Asylbek Kozhakhmetov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service shortly after the decision was announced. "That means there is no registration [for us]."

Bogus Members?

On April 20, the Astana court confirmed the Justice Ministry's decision to deny Alga registration. The ministry cast doubt on Alga's claims that it had the 50,000 members requried to register as a political party.

Supreme Court Judge Musabek Alimbekov concluded that the city court's decision should remain in force.

Alimbekov reportedly based his decision on what he described as "errors" in Alga's application that nullified its founding congress in July 2005. Specifically, Alimbekov said Alga's membership list included a number of "dead souls," noncitizens, and others that Kazakh law denies the right to participate actively in political life.

Official Disfavor

Alga emerged from the former Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) after that party was banned in early 2005. The DVK had been among the country's strongest opposition groupings before its demise.

While the Supreme Court was examining Alga's case today, at least 200 activists defied city officials and gathered in front of the Justice Ministry to protest the ban. Authorities had denied them permission to rally, alleging that organizers missed the 10-day deadline for applications.

Police soon moved to disperse today's demonstration, triggering clashes with protesters. Dozens of people were arrested and bused to a police station in Astana's Almaty neighborhood.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported that the detainees were briefly questioned before being released. Some said they were fined up to 20,000 tenges ($167).

Preemptive Detentions?

Maulen Omarov, who heads the party's operations in Astana, said police detained him early today as he was driving toward the city's center.

Opposition protests are often broken up by police (AFP)

"Police took me away at 7:30 in the morning," Omarov said. "I didn't do anything wrong; they simply stopped me. They arrested me and took my car. They gave no explanations -- nothing. I spent five hours in custody at the police station."

Olga Zaluchonova, an ethnic Russian from Almaty, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that she arrived in Astana by train early this morning to attend the rally. She, too, was detained by authorities.

"At 9 in the morning, I was standing with a friend in front of the train station," Zaluchonova said. "We were chatting when a couple of policemen approached us and demanded that we show them our identity papers. We showed them. Then they said they would drive us to the city branch of the Interior Ministry for further identity checks. They roughly pushed us into a [police] car, [and] they drove us to the city branch of the Interior Ministry. They kept us there for more than six hours without a single word of explanation. All they did is check our identities once more."

Harsh Climate

There are currently 12 legally registered political parties in Kazakhstan. Just three of them are opposition groupings.

The country routinely sees newspaper and other media closures, and official responses to unsanctioned demonstrations and other gatherings are generally swift. The administration of President Nursultan Nazarbaev has consistently maintained pressure on the opposition, including through administrative restrictions such as re-registration.

Several opposition political figures were killed in unsolved slayings in the run-up to and following Nazarbaev's reelection in December 2005.

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