- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

Kazakh chronicles
Kazakhstan is either a repressive, corrupt country run by a megalomaniac or a nation on a rough road to democracy, making steady but slow progress at each turn.
Both views were on display this week, as Kazakh critics and Kazakh defenders appealed to Congress and reporters for understanding.
Against that backdrop was a diplomatic sideshow.
Former Prime Minister Akezahan Kazhegeldin, whom the Kazakh government considers a fugitive from justice, appeared at a congressional hearing Wednesday, where a diplomat from the Kazakh Embassy tried to hand him a summons to appear back home to answer corruption charges.
Mr. Kazhegeldin refused to receive the document, creating what one congressional staffer described as a commotion just outside the hearing room where two House International Relations subcommittees were taking testimony about the status of democracy in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
New York Republican Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, and Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the International Operations and Human Rights subcommittee, demanded an explanation.
Mr. Kazhegeldin, who has denounced the charges as politically motivated, explained what had occurred in the hall and the Kazakh diplomat apologized.
In the hearing, Begeldin Gabdullin, editor of the Kazakh newspaper "21st Century," described harassment from the government.
He said his newspaper has been firebombed and he has been charged with "insulting the honor and dignity" of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Mr. Gabdullin said the Kazakh government stopped other journalists who have criticized the president from traveling to Washington to attend the hearing.
"The regime of Mr. Nazarbayev fears this forum," he said.
"Nazarbayev will never voluntarily agree to true and honest elections," he added. "His main goal is unlimited and permanent power."
State Department official Michael Parmly said Kazakhstan has made "progress on economic reform," but has "performed abysmally" in the promotion of democracy and protection of human rights.
Yesterday, other Kazakh officials told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that the criticism is exaggerated and the government is working to protect the rights of religious minorities, women, political opponents and the press.
"We represent very diverse groups and often disagree back home," said Azat Peruash, chairman of the Civil Party of Kazakhstan.
"We have a lot of issues to resolve, but we have to resolve them in Kazakhstan," he said.
Mr. Peruash, who said he has suffered political harassment from the police, said his party supports the government on some issues and opposes it on others.
Television executive Oleg Kviatkovski, who also testified at the hearing, disputed charges of media repression.
Raushan Sarsenbayeva, leader of the Women's Democratic Party, said women suffer as second-class citizens in Kazakhstan, but that Mr. Nazarbayev is working to improve their status.
"The only man who promotes women's rights is the president," she said.
Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, who came from Russia in 1994 to lead the Kazakh Jewish community, praised the protection of religious rights.
"I came here to correct the impression of a lack of religious freedom," he said.
Umirzak Aitbayev, head of the Kazakh language society, said the government is promoting the native tongue and educating the 40 percent of the population that speaks only Russia.

Drug spraying urged
The U.S. ambassador to Colombia has rejected complaints from coca farmers that aerial spraying to kill their illegal crops is causing health problems and urged the government to continue the program.
Ambassador Anne Patterson told reporters this week that spraying "is a key part of our policy under Plan Colombia, and it must continue."
Plan Colombia is the U.S.-supported anti-drug program designed by Colombian President Andres Pastrana.

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