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Kazakhstan: Interior Minister Reacts With Shock, Tightens Security Ahead Of PM Meetings

Kazakhstan says it is shocked by what it called "acts of barbarism" yesterday against the United States. The comments come as prime ministers of seven countries prepare for a series of meetings in Almaty this week. RFE/RL correspondent Michael Lelyveld reports from the Kazakh capital, Almaty:

Almaty, 12 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan has reacted with sympathy and horror to the terrorist attacks on the United States as the country prepares for two prime ministerial meetings amid security fears.

The country's Ministry of International Affairs issued a statement condemning what it called "acts of terrorism and barbarism" and calling for "more effective and coordinated measures" among all countries to prevent future such incidents.

The ministry said, "The awful tragedy which fell on the people of America shocked our people. Kazakhstan considers these acts as a challenge to all human society."

The call for greater cooperation against terrorism came as Kazakhstan prepares for the first meeting of prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Friday. The grouping, known as the SCO, comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

All six nations are concerned about threats from Islamic militants, mainly from Afghanistan, although China's worry is about Uighur separatists, while Russia continues its struggles in Chechnya.

The SCO has grown since it was founded in 1996 on China's initiative to deal with border disagreements. A meeting this week of the nations' finance ministers was previously expected to give the group a greater economic focus. But concerns over terrorism now seem more likely to take center stage.

Although the SCO issued a statement at its last summit in June opposing U.S. efforts to change the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and create a missile defense shield, it may now downplay that position because of yesterday's attacks.

Kazakhstan's head of air defense forces, Mukhtan Altymbayev, appeared on television today to announce extra security measures against hijacking. Security for the visit of foreign leaders is expected to be tight.

The U.S. Embassy in Almaty remained closed today. The adjoining street was blocked off by an armored vehicle.

The embassy is advising U.S. citizens in Kazakhstan to keep a low profile and to avoid public areas or establishments associated with Americans. At Almaty's major hotels, American guests received repeated expressions of condolences both from Kazakh citizens and foreign nationals. One visitor from Greece told an American visitor, "The whole world has changed." International phone connections were nearly impossible last night and early today as travelers sought assurances from home.

An official of the Chevron oil company, which has extensive operations in Kazakhstan, said that no extra security measures are being taken, but security for all foreign petroleum operations in the country is known to be high.

Almaty is scheduled to be the setting for an unusual series of diplomatic gatherings. Following the SCO session on Friday, the prime ministers of five nations are expected to come together for a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community. The overlapping economic cooperation group, which owes its existence to the constant urging of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, includes Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus.

Founded last October, its aim is to salvage the remnants of the CIS customs union and the abortive ruble zone by promoting integration and a single economic space.