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Kazakh Activists Detained, Pressured Ahead Of Opposition Party's Founding Congress

ATYRAU, Kazakhstan -- Three Kazakh opposition activists were detained by police while they were traveling to Almaty to take part in the founding congress of a new opposition group.

Detained opposition activist Talghat Ayan told RFE/RL that police on February 18 stopped him and two other activists, Rustem Kazhimov and Daria Ulzhaghalieva, at a railway station in the western city of Atyrau and took them to a nearly police station.

"Police told us that we were detained for questioning in an unspecified criminal case," Ayan said, adding that he was waiting for his lawyer to arrive while Kazhimov and Ulzhaghalieva were being questioned.

According to Ayan, 30 activists initially were planning to travel to Almaty to take part in the founding congress of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, which has been scheduled for February 22.

But Ayan said 10 of those activists already have changed their minds about attending the event because of pressure from Kazakh authorities.

Some activists complain that they also are being pressured to stay away from the new party's founding congress by various forms of intimidation, including violent attacks either threatened or carried out by unknown persons.

An activist in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, Muratbai Zhumaghaliev, told RFE/RL that unknown persons set his car on fire during the early morning hours of February 17.

Zhumaghaliev said he believes the apparent arson attack was linked to his political activities. He said the fire was an attempt to prevent him from travelling to Almaty to take part in the new party's congress.

The founder of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, Zhanbolat Mamai, has said that the new party's campaigners also have been facing different types of pressure across the country ahead of the congress.

Kazakh law requires the participation of at least 1,000 people in the founding congress of a political party for the party to be officially registered.

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