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OSCE Raps Kazakhstan For Seizing Opposition Paper

Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media
ALMATY (Reuters) -- Europe's main security and rights watchdog has criticized its future chairman Kazakhstan for seizing the print run of an opposition newspaper.

Kazakhstan, a Central Asian state that will next year chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has already come under fire from the body for jailing a journalist last month.

A court this month ordered the "Respublika" weekly to pay state-run bank BTA substantial damages after ruling the lender had lost 6.8 billion tenge ($45 million) in deposits because of a story the newspaper wrote about the bank.

"Respublika" said it was unable to pay the 60 million tenge ($400,000) damages and said it would challenge the ruling. But last week the court seized its entire print run and froze the publisher's bank accounts.

"This is an evident attempt to remove one of the few remaining critical voices in Kazakhstan," the OSCE quoted its media freedom representative Miklos Haraszti as saying in a statement on September 22.

"The level of intolerance toward the free flow of information and opinion is troubling in light of Kazakhstan's forthcoming OSCE chairmanship in 2010," Haraszti added.

A Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on those remarks.

Ex-Soviet Kazakhstan has pledged to liberalize its laws before taking on the chairmanship but has stopped short of fully implementing legal reforms recommended by OSCE.

Rights groups have stepped up criticism of Kazakhstan's treatment of independent media and journalists this year.