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Kazak Opposition 'Coerced' into Talks

Opposition feels it is being punished for refusing to negotiate with the authorities.
By Venera Abisheva

The Kazak government is putting pressure on the opposition to join a new dialogue process designed to convince the international community that democratic reforms are taking place in the republic.

The opposition has incurred the government's anger by choosing to boycott the process, which it regards as little more than a publicity stunt.

As part of the authorities' tactics, a high-profile opposition leader has been targeted through the courts while two leading political groups have effectively been banned, analysts say.

Republican People's Party, RPP, chairman Amirjan Kosanov - who was already facing a criminal prosecution for alleged tax evasion - was informed last month that the Almaty police were to press forgery charges against him - accusations he has vehemently denied.

In addition, his party along with the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, movement recently failed to acquire official recognition, which is needed to operate legally in the country.

Some analysts believe that this recent crackdown is linked to an unsuccessful attempt by the authorities to rein in the opposition by inviting it to take part in a permanent committee for developing proposals for further democratisation and development of civil society, PC.

The PC, which was set up in November of last year, is seen as a bid by the government to impress the international community by creating the appearance of dialogue with the opposition.

In reality, argue analysts, the opposition would constitute a tiny component of the PC - easily controlled by the government, which would hold talks purely on its own terms.

One political commentator, who wished to remain anonymous, said that this is a clear sign that the authorities were simply "playing at dialogue".

As a result, the RPP and other parties in the main opposition alliance, the Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakstan, said they had no intention of participating in the committee.

Kosanov now believes that the forgery charges are designed to put pressure on him to take part in the PC.

Why else, he asks, would he receive an invitation from the government to participate in the dialogue process and at the same time face prosecution. Kosanov pointed out that one of the men organising the PC, deputy prime minister Baurjan Mukhamedjanov, is also responsible for supervising the law enforcement agencies.

"I don't think that the government's latest actions are linked to their efforts to force the opposition into participating in the permanent comittee," said one official at the state analytical centre's internal policy department. He would make no comment on the nature of the charges against Kosanov, adding only that the law enforcement agencies "might have found something" to justify their decision to prosecute.

Kosanov's RRP lost its official status last month because it did not meet new tough registration requirements enforced at the beginning of the year.

The DCK was also effectively outlawed after a court in December refused to register branch offices in each of the country's 15 regions - a precondition for full registration.

The movement denies the authorities claim that application papers were not in order.

The DCK said the government found fault with translations between Kazak and Russian and claimed there had been procedural irregularities. But when the movement amended its submissions, it said officials discovered other problems.

Following the court decision, bank workers, who do not want to give their names for fear of reprisals, confirmed that the DCK's bank account has been frozen since the beginning of the year.

Kosanov has sought to alert the international community to the latest crackdown by the authorities, travelling to the United States at the end of last month, where he met State Department officials, the International League of Human Rights and other organisations.

During the meetings, US under-secretary of state Loran Kreiner described the forgery charges levelled against Kosanov and the recent jailing of opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov as a continuation of the Kazak government's targeting of its opponents.

Kreiner added that the State Department is going to monitor the situation to ensure that Kosanov, who also leads Reforma, a non-governmental organisation, which supports democratic reforms, did not become "a victim of political repression".

Venera Abisheva is the pseudonym for a journalist in Kazakstan

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