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Kazakh Newspaper In Hot Water Over Crossword Clue

Sergei Kibasov, chief editor of the Kazakh Russian-language newspaper "Stepnoi Mayak."
KOKSHETAU, Kazakhstan, June 22, 2011 (RFE/RL) -- A Kazakh weekly newspaper is facing calls for its closure over a crossword clue critics say was insulting to the Kazakh nation, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The row is over a crossword in the May 26 issue of the Russian-language "Stepnoi Mayak" (Steppe Lighthouse) newspaper in the northern city of Kokshetau.

The offending clue asked, "Name the house of a Kazakh street bum." The answer was given as "yurt," the traditional home of the nomadic peoples of Eurasia, including Kazakhs.

The crossword sparked a series of protests in Kokshetau and other Kazakh cities.

The chairman of the Bolashaq (Future) movement, Dauren Babamurat, told RFE/RL that the newspaper should be closed as it compared Kazakhs with street bums. Babamurat added that such a harsh punishment would be a lesson for other newspapers in Russian in Kazakhstan.

Last week, deputy Nurlan Onerbaev called on parliament to discuss the possible closure of "Stepnoi Mayak" and several other newspapers printed in the Russian language. Onerbaev claimed the newspapers often intentionally misprint some names of Kazakh historic figures.

Onerbaev's request to close the newspapers was signed by 14 deputies and sent to Kazakh State Secretary Qanat Saudabaev.

"Stepnoi Mayak" chief editor Sergei Kibasov told RFE/RL that the crossword with the controversial question and answer was taken from another "foreign periodical" and printed by mistake.

"It was our fault," Kibasov said. "We are very sorry and we have apologized both officially and non-officially." According to Kibasov, "it would be too much to close the newspaper for such a mistake."

Kibasov refused to name the periodical that originally carried the crossword.

Tamara Kaleeva, chairwoman of the Almaty-based Adil Soz media rights defense center, told RFE/RL that it is necessary to take into account that the periodical's editors did not intend to offend the Kazakh nation, its symbols, or honor, and therefore it should just print an apology and make sure that all future borrowings from other periodicals are thoroughly checked before being used.

Read more in Kazakh here

Read more in Russian here