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Kazakhs Bulldoze Hare Krishna Commune

(RFE/RL) November 21, 2006 -- A Norwegian-based religious-freedom group reported that authorities in southern Kazakhstan today began the demolition of the only Hare Krishna commune in the former Soviet Union.

Forum 18 quoted a Hare Krishna spokesman, Maksim Varfolomeev, as saying riot police sealed off the 48-hectare farming commune before the bulldozing began.

Eyewitnesses said three homes of Hare Krishna devotees had been destroyed by mid-afternoon and that the windows of all other homes had been smashed.

Forum 18 said an OSCE human rights officer was monitoring developments at the site, which is in the region of Almaty.

The group added that it was snowing in Almaty and that overnight temperatures were expected to drop below freezing.

Forum 18 said the order to demolish the homes was issued by the Karasai District Court, where the commune is based, delivered on November 20, and is being carried out by court executors.

The religious-freedoms group also claimed the demolition "contradicts earlier Kazakh official assurances" that the authorities' long-running bid to seize the site was on hold, a claim that could not be independently confirmed.

The complex includes 13 residential buildings.

Forum 18 said officials would not respond to questions about why the structures were being demolished.

It quoted a representative of the Hare Krishna community saying that officials had pledged no action would be taken until the results of an official probe into the dispute.

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