View Full Version : Opposition leader killed by three shots was a suicide, police claim

08-12-05, 12:26
Opposition leader killed by three shots was a suicide, police claim
From Jeremy Page in Almaty

THE wife of a leading opposition figure in Kazakhstan found him sprawled in a pool of blood in the billiard room of his villa in Almaty.

Zamenbek Nurkadilov had been shot twice in the chest, piercing his heart, and once at close range in the head, investigators say. By his side lay a cushion with two bullet holes in it. Yet three weeks on, police in the city are still treating the case as a suspected suicide.

“It’s unbelievable,” his wife, the popular singer Makpal Zhunusova, told The Times. “How does a man shoot himself in the heart, then in the head, and then throw himself on the floor?”

That is just one of many awkward questions being asked of the Government in this former Soviet Central Asian nation before Sunday’s presidential election.

The Opposition has linked Mr Nurkadilov’s death to his criticism of President Nazarbayev, who has ruled since 1989 and is standing for a third seven-year term.

Mr Nurkadilov was the Emergencies Minister and a close friend of Mr Nazarbayev until he switched sides last year and became his harshest critic. He once compared the President to Nicolae Ceausescu, the late Romanian dictator.

“I see no other explanation for his death other than a political one,” said Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, 58, a former Speaker of parliament who is the main opposition candidate. “It is dangerous to get involved in politics in Kazakhstan.”

Mr Nazarbayev, 65, is widely expected to win the poll on Sunday despite Mr Nurkadilov’s mysterious death and other scandals. Critics accuse the President of restricting his four opponents’ access to the media, harassing their supporters, closing opposition newspapers and plotting to falsify poll results.

But even opposition leaders see little hope of staging a revolution such as those that engulfed Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in the past two years. Mr Nazarbayev has vowed to crush any uprising and a new law bans protests before the election result is confirmed.

The West appears as reluctant to encourage unrest here as it was in Azerbaijan after its flawed parliamentary elections last month. Western companies have invested billions of dollars in Kazakhstan to secure access to oil supplies that will be shipped to Azerbaijan and then, via a new pipeline, to the Mediterranean.

Kazakhstan, the only Central Asian nation with troops in Iraq, is also of increasing strategic importance to the United States since it fell out with Uzbekistan over the massacre of anti-government protesters.

Nevertheless, the Kazakh Government’s handling of Mr Nurkadilov’s death and the election are raising grave questions about this emerging energy giant’s future.

The West has long regarded Mr Nazarbayev as a “soft”, authoritarian leader who would eventually introduce democratic reforms. On a visit here last month, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said that Kazakhstan “has a chance to be a real leader in Central Asia on both economic and political reform”.

Mr Nazarbayev has played to those expectations. “I want Kazakhs to be rich,” he told a rally this week. At the same time, he promised “a real modernisation of politics” and an “attack on corruption”.

He is also in the running to take over the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors elections in the former Soviet Union, in 2009. But that possibility will be scuppered if the OSCE criticises Sunday’s poll, as is expected. Western officials fear that Mr Nazarbayev will react by abandoning democratic reforms altogether and moving closer to Russia and China.

He has pointedly ignored criticism of last year’s parliamentary elections, which packed the legislature with his friends and relatives.

He is widely thought to be grooming his daughter, Dariga, a former opera singer, to take over the presidency. She ran a media empire before founding her own party last year. Another daughter, Dinara, controls Halyk (People’s) Bank, where the election commission holds the campaign accounts of presidential candidates.

Opposition leaders accuse the Nazarbayev family of enriching themselves at the country’s expense. They cite the trial in New York of James Giffen, a US businessman, accused of giving Mr Nazarbayev and his former Oil Minister $78 million (about £45 million) in bribes in the 1990s. But Mr Nazarbayev has not allowed state media to air details of the case and is expected to clamp down further after the trial resumes in January.

Some opposition figures see a link between the case and the killing of Mr Nurkadilov, who had founded an anti-corruption organisation.

The police’s handling of the case and the state media’s biased coverage suggest at best incompetence and at worst a cover-up. “I know my husband was afraid,” said Mrs Nurkadilova, who has a three-year-old daughter. “Now I’m afraid that if I say something, they will kill me.”


Size land area is equivalent to Western Europe

Religions Muslim 47 per cent; Russian Orthodox 44 per cent; Protestant 2 per cent; other 7 per cent

Languages Kazakh; Russian

Ethnic groups Kazakh 53.4 per cent; Russian 30 per cent; Ukrainian 3.7 per cent; Uzbek 2.5 per cent; German 2.4 per cent; Tatar 1.7 per cent; Uygur 1.4 per cent; other 4.9 per cent