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Kazakhstan: Opposition Activities Decrease

Prague, 29 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The domestic political scene in Kazakhstan has changed noticeably this year with a sharp decline in opposition activities in the country.

RFE/RL's correspondent in the region attributes the abrupt drop to several factors, including a campaign to lure opposition leaders into government, moving the capital city from Almaty to Astana, internal dissent among dissidents, and the Kazakh government's persecution of all opposition parties and movements.

Last month, the leader of the Kazakhstani Workers Movement, Madel Ismailov, was sentenced to a year in prison. The charge that convicted him was "cursing the Kazakh President in public." Madel is now serving his term in the so-called "common regime" labor camp at Petropavlovsk in northern Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL's correspondent says the Kazakh General Prosecutor's Office has shut down the "AZAT" movement, declaring that AZAT leaders failed to meet a deadline for re-registering the group.

All mass gatherings and public protests end with the arrests of opposition leaders, who usually remain incarcerated for several days. Police intervene wherever any party or movement holds its meetings and videotape all the proceedings, later taking the leaders into detention.

Protest marches held earlier this year in the towns of Kentau and Janatas ended badly. When local citizens staged the protest to attract government attention to non-payment of long overdue state salaries, they met with violence.

Hundreds of demonstrators were beaten by police and sent home. Three leaders of the action were brought to trial and received jail terms suspended until the next "crime," as was customary in the old Soviet Union.

A person can be given a prison term, but the sentence is not carried out unless he or she commits a new crime. Then the old postponed sentence goes into effect automatically without any trial.

Later, the local courts banned Trade Unions in Kentau City.

The opposition movement is also weakened by quarrels among leading activists, such as a recent dispute in the pages of the local press between the two co-Chairmen of the AZAMAT opposition movement, Piyotr Svoik and Murat Auezov.

Auezov harshly criticized Svoik for publishing an article in the daily newspaper KARAVAN, in which the latter expressed his views on Kazakhstan's future development.

Auezov, himself stopped criticizing Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and government policy when he was appointed Chief of the Information and National Concord Department in the Almaty OblastIs administration.

Another AZAMAT leader, Ghalym Abelseitov has also left the movement. He ceased all political activity after being imprisoned for a week last year.

Furthermore, the National Front, an alliance of all Kazakhstani opposition groups and parties, also became inactive this year under government pressure.

The move of the Kazakh capital from Almaty to Astana, previously called Aqmola, the center of the Aqmola Oblast, is another factor in the decline of Kazakhstan's opposition movement.

Astana is still a small, provincial city with little happening there beyond daily routine life. But the move of political institutions there seem to have had a deadening effect on remaining political life in Almaty.

The only non-government name appearing currently in some periodicals in Almaty is that of Akejan Kajegeldin - a former Kazakh prime minister who recently returned to Almaty from a self-imposed exile in the West.

Kajegeldin has been elected head of the Kazakh Businessmen Association and begun to publish commentaries in some local newspapers and publications. Some analysts speculate that he may be thinking of the year 2000 and preparing to be a candidate in the planned presidential election.