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US Lodges Complaint Over Newspaper Firebombing in Kazakhstan - 2002-05-24


The United States is expressing concern about what it says is the harassment of the independent media and political opposition in Kazakhstan. U.S. diplomats there have lodged a formal complaint over a series of incidents including the firebombing Wednesday of the independent newspaper Respublika in the country's biggest city, Almaty.

The State Department says it is "deeply concerned" by a series of incidents it says suggest an effort to intimidate opposition political leaders and the media in Kazakhstan, and "raise serious questions" about the safety of the independent press in the Central Asian state.

The written statement from spokesman Philip Reeker followed a break-in and assault of workers at one opposition newspaper Soldat on Tuesday, and a firebombing that destroyed the Almaty office of another independent paper Respublika on Wednesday.

Mr. Reeker cited other recent cases, including the suspension of broadcast rights for, and acts of vandalism against, the country's independent television station "TAN," and the detention of two opposition politicians on corruption charges.

He said the U.S. ambassador in Kazakhstan, Larry Napper, who toured the burned-out newspaper office Thursday, has complained to authorities and urged them to conduct an "independent and transparent" investigation of the firebombing incident as well as other media attacks.

Mr. Reeker noted that when he visited Washington in December, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a statement with President Bush stating a desire to strengthen democratic institutions and processes, including independent media.

He said the United States urges the country's political leadership to take "appropriate action" to protect and advance democratic development, a free press, and the rule of law.

Mr. Nazarbayev, who was Kazakhstan's Communist Party chief in the Soviet era, has drawn praise from the Bush administration for his support of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. But the United States has long been critical of his government's human rights record and treatment of political and media critics.

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