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Kazakhstan: President Nazarbaev Answers Questions Via Internet

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo) (RFE/RL) June 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev went on the Internet today to answer several of the more than 5,000 e-mails that people sent him. Though many of the questions dealt with domestic issues, there were some questions about independent media, freedom of speech, and about Nazarbaev's son-in-law, who faces extradition from Austria after being charged with several serious crimes in Kazakhstan.

Nazarbaev spent more than three hours answering questions that came mainly from the citizens of his country.

Good Participation

The event was announced well in advance and a list of questions was posted and could be voted on at According to the website, nearly 170,000 votes were cast to determine which of the more than 5,000 questions that were e-mailed to Nazarbaev should be answered by him.

"If I were in Nursultan Nazarbaev's shoes I would invite those media outlets that criticize the government, the president, and his family for a talk to openly discuss all the issues."

For many, the most interesting answers Nazarbaev gave were to questions about the media and the situation with Rakhat Aliev, Nazarbaev's son-in-law, who has been charged with crimes in Kazakhstan and is awaiting extradition from Austria.

Asking about the media, a man from northern Kazakhstan asked about the "closure" of KTK-TV and the weekly newspaper "Karavan," two media outlets in which Aliev has financial interests.

The question seemed designed to ease Nazarbaev into comments about Aliev, but the Kazakh president began his answer by noting that neither media outlet was "closed" but only suspended and that both would soon be back in operation. However, Nazarbaev took the opportunity to remind media outlets and journalists that "freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility."

That question was followed by one directly addressing the issue of Aliev. Nazarbaev answered by saying Aliev had been officially charged with organizing a criminal group, abducting two bank officials, and other crimes.

Aliev And Alleged Crimes

Nazarbaev said there are others connected to Aliev's crimes, some of whom have been detained and are providing evidence, while others have fled. Nazarbaev asked of the latter group: "if they are honest why did they flee?"

Nazarbaev said that ultimately it is up to the courts to decide who is guilty in the case, but the president took the opportunity to call upon the media not to interfere in the investigation, which already "has not been easy for me and my family." Aliev is married to Nazarbaev's oldest daughter, Darigha.

Nazarbaev also fielded questions about conflicts between the West and the Islamic world, saying it was not so much a question of religion as it was of "rich versus poor" that is causing problems.

He added that the Middle East is a continuing source of disagreement and the cause of numerous problems throughout the world. In an apparent reference to Iran and its controversial nuclear program, Nazarbaev said "the United States and Russia are not reducing their nuclear arsenals but are demanding that other countries not only stop proliferation but stop producing nuclear weapons."

Nazarbaev said it is necessary for Washington and Moscow to start reducing their arsenals first.
Not all were satisfied with the forum or the means for gathering questions. Amirzhan Kosanov, an active member of the Kazakh opposition Social Democratic Party, was one of them.

'Waiting For Answers'

"This kind of conference is of course necessary, but right now when society is waiting for answers to very important questions regarding urgent issues, I think this form of communication is not sufficient," he said. "If I were in Nursultan Nazarbaev's shoes I would invite those media outlets that criticize the government, the president, and his family for a talk to openly discuss all the issues. I would answer the questions raised by those media outlets."

Nazarbaev's foray into the online world to answer questions is not an original idea. Russian President Vladimir Putin has done it, for instance, as have several other leaders.

Questions always arise about whether the questions posed to the leaders are selected ahead of time and approved by the leader. It seems that may have been the case with Nazarbaev: a school child from Shymkent asked, "if you caught a golden fish, which three wishes would you make?" The golden fish is legendary in many countries as the granter of wishes and Nazarbaev responded, "first to create a new Kazakhstan. Second, to raise up the shattered economy and make it serve the people. Third, to build a new capital in the steppe, a dream of mine and of many Kazakhstanis."
Nazarbaev then noted: "not one of these wishes was granted by a golden fish. All of these things were achieved with persistent work, by me, and by all Kazakhstanis."

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

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