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Kazakh opposition gathers for rare rally

Associated Press - January 28, 2012

Peter Leonard, Almaty, Kazakhstan Hundreds of opposition supporters protested the results recent elections and the violent suppression of an oil workers protest at a demonstrationi Saturday in Kazakhstan's commercial capital.

The meeting took place peacefully and police did not break it up, as is common at unauthorized political rallies in the former Soviet Central Asian nation.

However, the All-National Social Democratic Party, or OSDP, said in a statement after the meeting that several party members, including co-leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, were detained and taken to the police station.

OSDP co-leader Bulat Abilov told the crowd in the center of Almaty that meetings would be held once every month. Even the smallest of rallies are a rarity in a nation in which dissent is not tolerated.

Before the meeting concluded, the crowd united in prayer in commemoration of people killed last month in the western oil town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 died during clashes between police and striking laborers. Authorities are prosecuting several police officers for exceeding their authority by opening fire on rampaging protesters. At the end of the meeting, Abilov led the crowd in chants of "We are sick of this outrage!"

The ruling Nur Otan party gained control of 83 of the parliament's 107 seats in elections this month that international observers said didn't meet democratic standards.

OSDP, the only genuinely robust opposition force taking part, garnered 2 percent of the ballot. International observers said the election failed to meet democratic standards.

Kazakhstan, which occupies an area around the size of Western Europe and shares long borders with Russia and China, is viewed as a reliable energy and security partner by the West, but has come under fire for its democratic shortcomings. It is becoming increasingly important as a supplier of oil and gas, and is key to the northern delivery route for supplies to the United States-led military operation in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, police arrested the leader of the unregistered Alga party, Vladmir Kozlov, for inciting social unrest in Zhanaozen. The editor of independent newspaper Vzglyad, Igor Sinyavsky, was also jailed and faces charges of "calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order."

An Almaty court Friday ordered the men to be remanded in custody for two months.

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