- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — A day after a court banned one of this former Soviet republic’s main pro-democracy opposition parties for inciting civil strife, the acting leader of the party vowed yesterday to create a new one.

“We will not let our members down,” said Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, the acting head of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. “We will recreate the same party with a new name.”

A U.S. Embassy statement called the ban “a step backward” that reversed the party’s official registration only eight months ago, which at the time was hailed as a sign that the authoritarian government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev was serious about his pledges to gradually introduce democracy.

“This is the first time in half a century that a party has been banned for advocating democracy” in Europe or the former Soviet Union, Yevgeny Zhovtis, a lawyer for the Democratic Choice, told a three-judge panel in Almaty’s municipal court. “And to have it done by a lower court instead of a constitutional court adds insult to injury.”

The municipal court found that Democratic Choice had violated laws against inciting civil disorder when it challenged the legitimacy of the government in the wake of fall elections that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said “fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards.”

Democratic Choice, whose leader, Galimzhan Zhakyanov, is considered the country’s only political prisoner, also called for acts of civil disobedience of the kind used by Mohandas Gandhi in India.

“Gandhi would be in jail in Kazakhstan,” Mr. Zhovtis told the court. Later, he deplored in an interview that the increasingly authoritarian government in neighboring Russia “provides Kazakhstan with some justification to be more repressive than before.”

Yermukhamet Yertisbayev, an adviser to Mr. Nazarbayev, who has ruled this former Soviet republic four times the size of Texas for 15 years, argued that the ban was justified.

“The prosecutors rightly found that [Democratic Choice] is an extremist organization,” he said. “Don’t you think law-enforcement authorities in your country would react if a political party did not recognize the legitimacy of President Bush and called for civil disobedience?”

Democratic Choice is the second-largest of three opposition parties that virtually were shut out of the new parliament. The parties are preparing to announce this spring the selection of a candidate to run against Mr. Nazarbayev, 63, in elections due in December.

“This ban is completely illegal and it does nothing to promote stability,” said Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, 57, the presumed opposition presidential candidate, who recently resigned as speaker of the lower house after calling the last elections a “farce.”

Democratic Choice, claiming membership of 106,000 in a country of about 15 million people, has been outspoken in denouncing the rising inequality that has stained the country’s oil-fueled economic boom.

The party’s newspaper, Soz, also has provided detailed coverage of the so-called “Kazakhgate” scandal that the mainstream press has been intimidated into ignoring.

The scandal involves James Giffen, an American adviser to Mr. Nazarbayev, who is due to be tied in New York federal district court in April on charges of funneling $60 million in bribes from oil companies to Mr. Nazarbayev’s Swiss bank accounts, and another $18 million to those of his one-time prime minister.

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