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Kazakhstan: Second Presidential Candidate Qualifies

Almaty, 26 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will have at least one opponent in January's presidental elections. Our correspondent reports that Gani Qasymov, chief of the Kazakh State Customs Committee, yesterday announced he had fulfilled the stiff criteria for full registration as a candidate in the elections. These include collection of 170,000 signatures from prospective supporters and payment of a registration fee of about $30,000.

Qasymov joins Nazarbayev, who fulfilled the requirements earlier in the week, as the only registered candidates thus far.

Two other declared candidates, Senator Engels Gabbasov and independent Karishal Assanov, have not yet met all requirements. The deadline for full registration is November 30.

The person who had widely been expected to be Nazarbayev's principle opponent in the race, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was barred from competing after being sentenced by a court for participating in an unsanctioned public gathering.

The country's Supreme Court refused to reinstate his candidacy on Tuesday in a ruling it called final.

The U.S. State Department yesterday criticized the decision, saying it contradicted Kazakhstan's commitments as a participating state in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It said the action also followed a pattern of harassment of independent media and opposition political figures in the run-up to the election, which was originally scheduled for 2000.