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Defendant In Kazakh Political Killing Retracts Confession

A memorial service for Sarsenbaev in Almaty in February (RFE/RL) June 29, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A key defendant in the two-week-old trial of the suspected killers of Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev today retracted his confession of guilt, saying he had nothing to do with organizing the assassination, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.

The defendant, Yerzhan Utembaev, is the former head of the Kazakh Senate's secretariat. He says his previous admission of guilt was made under severe mental stress.

Prosecutors have suggested that Utembaev held a personal grudge against Sarsenbaev that motivated the killings.

One day earlier, Rustam Ibragimov, a former police officer who prosecutors believe killed Sarsenbaev, told the court in Taldy-Qorgan that the charges brought against him were fabricated.

He also told the court that Utembaev had asked him to take Sarsenbaev and his two companions to a meeting, where unidentified individuals then took them away.

Sarsenbaev, his bodyguard, and his driver were killed in February in what relatives say was a political murder. Sarsenbaev's supporters say they believe senior government officials are behind the killings.

Utembaev and all nine other defendants were all said by authorities to have confessed to roles in the killings.

(with material from Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Kazakhstan's Fallen Opposition

Kazakhstan's Fallen Opposition
Slain Kazakh journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov (undated RFE/RL file photo)

February 13, 2006: Altynbek Sarsenbaev -- a leader of the Kazakh opposition, co-chairman of the Naghyz Aq Zhol party, former minister of information, former Kazakh ambassador to Russia, former secretary of Kazakhstan's Security Council -- is found dead with his bodyguard and his driver, shot to death, execution style, with their hands bound behind their backs.

November 11, 2005: Zamanbek Nurkadilov-- prominent Kazakh politician, former mayor of Almaty, former Minister of Extraordinary Situations, and since a vocal critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev since March 2004 -- is found shot to death, with two shots in his chest and one in his head. Kazakh authorities officially rule the case a suicide.

June 2, 2005: Batyrkhan Darimbet -- opposition journalist and editor in chief of the weekly AZAT -- is killed in what is officially reported as a traffic accident. Relatives and activists assert that it was a political killing.

December 19, 2004: Erzhan Tatishev -- head of Kazakhstan's largest bank, TuranAlemBank -- is killed in what was officially described as a hunting accident. Kazakh political observers allege that it was a premeditated assassination.

July 20, 2004: Askhat Sharipzhan-- independent journalist and political commentator for NAVI online -- dies of injuries sustained several days earlier in what was officially reported as a hit-and-run accident. Relatives and colleagues believe it was an assassination.

November17, 2002: Independent journalist Nuri Muftakh is killed in what is officially reported as a traffic accident. Colleagues and activists regard the death as suspicious.

January 4, 2002: Human rights activist Aleksei Pugaev is found dead, the victim of a hit-and-run car accident. Colleagues regard the circumstances as suspicious and no one is ever arrested in connection with the death.

(compiled by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service)


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