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Opposition Newspapers Confiscated In Strike-Hit Kazakh Town

ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan -- The most recent issues of two opposition newspapers have been confiscated in a western Kazakh town where thousands of oil workers are on strike, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

People's Front activist Aizhangul Amirova, who is the main distributor in Zhanaozen of the opposition weeklies "Respublika" and "Pravda Kazakhstana" (Truth of Kazakhstan), told RFE/RL on October 24 that local police impounded the truck that was bringing the papers.

Major Nurbol Telmaghambetov of the Zhanaozen police department told RFE/RL that 279 copies of "Respublika" and 39 copies of "Pravda Kazakhstana" were confiscated as "there is a suspicion that the two papers contain articles with extremist content."

Telmaghambetov added that the newspapers had been sent to specialists who will rule on whether any of the articles are indeed extremist in nature.

"After the experts' conclusion, it will be decided whether a criminal case should be launched against the newspapers," Telmaghambetov said.

'Stopping Strike Coverage'

Oksana Makushina, the deputy chief editor of "Respublika," told RFE/RL that her newspaper did not print articles of an extremist nature and never had.

"The confiscation of our newspaper and the baseless allegations that it has some sort of extremist bias are simply a new attempt to shut down our periodical, which has been criticizing the government and covering the strike by oil workers in Zhanaozen," Makushina said.

Thousands of workers at the Qarazhanbasmunai and OzenMunaiGaz oil and gas companies in Zhanaozen have been on strike since May.

They are demanding a wage increase, equal rights with foreign workers, and the lifting of restrictions on the activities of independent labor unions in the region.

Hundreds of strikers have been fired since the strike began. Several others have been brought to trial on charges of organizing unsanctioned mass gatherings.

A lawyer for Qarazhanbasmunai's labor unions, Natalya Sokolova, was found guilty in August of "igniting social hatred" and given a six-year jail term.

"Respublika" and "Pravda Kazakhstana" have been covering the strike since it began.

"Respublika" is associated with opposition politician and former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, who now lives in exile in London.

Since it was launched 10 years ago, its offices have been targeted in an arson attack, and its chief editor, Irina Petrushova had to leave Kazakhstan for Russia several years ago. The paper is currently printed outside Kazakhstan, as local publishing houses refuse to print it.

"Pravda Kazakhstana" is the newspaper of the opposition Communist Party of Kazakhstan. Party leader Ghaziz Aldamzharov told RFE/RL that the newspaper did not print articles with extremist content. He said the confiscation of the most recent issue was politically motivated.

Also on October 24, the Court of Appeals in Almaty upheld a six-month suspension of the activities of the Communist Party.

On October 4, the Almaty City Court ruled that the party violated the law on public organizations by creating -- together with the unregistered Algha (Forward) party -- the People's Front movement, which has been monitoring the oil-worker strike.

Read more in Kazakh here