QUESTIONS OVER KAZAKSTAN "TERROR PLOT"  Allegations seem designed to
blame exiled opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov for all that is wrong
with Kazakstan.  By Alexandra Kazakova

KYRGYZ SPORTSMEN FOR HIRE  Poor funding for sports drives many to seek
careers in security and sometimes in crime.   By Timur Toktonaliev,
Anastasia Akimova

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Allegations seem designed to blame exiled opposition figure Mukhtar
Ablyazov for all that is wrong with Kazakstan.

By Alexandra Kazakova

As the authorities in Kazakstan try to implicate exiled banker and
government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov in an alleged terror plot, analysts
are trying to figure out why the allegations have been made, and why

One obvious reason for trying to nail Ablyazov, they say, is that
unlike other political figures in exile, he has a presence inside
Kazakstan through his links to an opposition group and local media

Accusing Ablyazov of terrorism is designed to tarnish his reputation –
and that of his associates, too – in the eyes of the international

Secondly, raising the alarm about a threat to public security may
serve as a useful distraction from the embarrassment which the
government suffered after violence in the western town of Janaozen in
December, in which its police force is accused of opening fire on
protesters, killing 14 and injuring over 100.

The Kazak prosecution service issued a press statement on March 28
stating that the authorities had foiled attacks that were planned by
associates of Ablyazov in the country’s second city, Almaty. One of
the would-be attackers is said to have turned himself in to the police
four days before the announcement.

The suspected plotters were named as Muratbek Ketebaev, a leader of
the Alga party who is currently abroad, and Ablyazov’s security chief
Alexander Pavlov, now in the UK. The statement said several people
were under arrest, without giving more details.

Although Ablyazov was not accused in person, the allegations seem
designed to place him in the frame as the ultimate mastermind.

In an interview published on the Respublika news website on March 9,
Ablyazov said the allegations against his associates were unfounded.

Pro-government media outlets then carried what purported to be a
leaked video of one of the suspects being questioned, and reported
that the terrorism charges were to be expanded to include an attempted

Ablyazov made international headlines when he was sentenced to 22
months in jail in Britain in February for contempt of court. He is
accused of embezzling billions of US dollars from the BTA bank in

He denies the claims made against him in this case, saying it is
designed to rob him of his assets and silence him as an opponent of
President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Ablyazov and a number of his associates abroad are linked to the Alga
party as well as to the Golos Respubliki newspaper and its sister
website Respublika. Ketebaev also founded another opposition
newspaper, Vzglyad, and is head of the Civic Activism foundation.

Golos Respubliki is now under pressure. The director of its parent
company, Daniar Moldashev, was detained in Almaty on March 28, and two
of its reporters were questioned by the Kazak security service.

Vzglyad’s chief editor, Igor Vinyavsky, was arrested earlier this year
but released last month.

The latest allegations follow earlier suggestions that Ablyazov
instigated the trouble in Janaozen, a charge he also denies.

When those allegations surfaced, Yermuhamet Yertysbaev, political
advisor to President Nazarbaev, accused Ablazov of bankrolling
opposition media and using them as an instrument to overthrow the
government through “revolution, mass unrest, chaos and violence”.

Alga party leader Vladimir Kozlov is facing trial along with a number
of oil industry labour activists and opposition members, accused of
“inciting social discord”. They were not involved in the Janaozen
violence, but had expressed support for striking oil workers in the
town over the preceding months, and helped set up an independent
inquiry to look into the December shootings.

Independent political scientist Rasul Jumaly is sceptical about
whether there is any substance to the terror plot allegations.

“Of course, if it was indeed the case and our security services
managed to foil a terrorist threat, then they are due all respect and
praise,” he said, adding that “the security services should have
provided more convincing evidence that talks took place [between the
alleged organisers and attackers], and that an explosive device
existed.” .

As allegation follows allegation, the authorities seem dead set on
eliminating Ablyazov’s capacity to exert any influence in Kazakstan.

Viktor Kovtunovsky of the non-government Civil Society group put it,
“The authorities are now trying to kill two birds with one stone by
shifting the blame for Janaozen onto someone else, and by clamping
down on the opposition.”

He noted that having accused opposition figures of incitement after
Janaozen – a serious offence in itself – the authorities faced a
strong negative reaction from the international community, and now
seemed determined to raise the stakes.

“The authorities thus see it as expedient to accuse Ablyazov of more
dangerous things – for example terrorism – as a way of bolstering
their position,” Kovtunovsky said.

As for the reaction in Kazakstan, Kovtunovsky said media coverage and
discussions on social networking sites suggested that most people were
not overly concerned about the terror allegations directed against

“These allegations are raising lots of questions both inside the
country and abroad,” he said. “It’s evidence of scepticism, as people
have developed a healthy mistrust towards anything emanating from the

Kovtunovsky said he did not believe the political opposition had any
interest in dabbling in violence, not least since terrorism always
resulted in societies and their governments drawing together to face a
common enemy.

“Such methods are more typical of radical groups that have come into
Kazakstan from outside. And even then, their radicalism is fuelled by
persecution by the authorities,” he said, referring to the growing
influence of Islamic extremist groups among some marginalised groups
in Kazakstan.

Kovtunovsky wondered whether the plot might also reflect an effort by
the security services to show Nazarbaev that they were doing their
job. After the violence in Janaozen, the law-enforcement agencies and
local government officials were accused of allowing the situation to
slide out of control.

“It’s possible that one of the possible reasons why the National
Security Committee is cooking up this case is to rehabilitate itself
in the president’s eyes,” he said.

A terrorist threat hanging in the air could also make it easier for
the government to justify greater restrictions on freedom of assembly
and expression. It could also facilitate the conduct of trials of
oppositionists behind closed doors.

“The atmosphere of fear surrounding Ablyazov and groups that support
him is intensifying, and is also sensed by the public in general,”
Kovtunovsky said.

Jumaly questioned the overall trend towards blaming external factors
for all of Kazakstan’s ills.

“There’s a tendency these days to lay the blame for the problems
facing Kazakstan on outside forces, whether it’s Ablyazov, religious
extremists, or other countries, for example the United States,” he
said. “I personally believe this is the wrong approach, as the root
causes should be looked for inside the country.”

Alexandra Kazakova is IWPR Kazakstan director.


Poor funding for sports drives many to seek careers in security and
sometimes in crime.

By Timur Toktonaliev, Anastasia Akimova

As state support for sports in Kyrgyzstan suffers from chronic
underfunding, many sportsmen have turned to careers in the private
security sector, just to earn a living. Some are drawn into organised
crime where their strength is an asset.

Wrestling, boxing and other martial arts are particularly popular in
Kyrgyzstan, but the state has done little to support these or other
sports in recent years.

Baygazy Kenjebaev, director of the government agency for sports, put
this down to political upheavals – Kyrgyzstan has had two revolutions
since 2005. This has been reflected in continuing turmoil within
Kenjebaev’s own agency, and he is its fifth head in as many years.

The national Olympic Committee pays team members just 21 US dollars a
month during training, while coaches earn between 130 and 320 dollars
a month, averaging 215 dollars.

Sportsmen with the right skills turn instead to work as bodyguards for
politicians, as security staff protecting buildings, and in some cases

Economic pressures led Keneshbek Shabatjaev to abandon a ten-year
professional career in the Russian martial art sambo to become a
security guard for a private firm.

He could have worked as a coach, he said, but it would still have been
difficult to support his wife and daughter on the wages on offer.

An ex-wrestler told IWPR how he too decided against getting into
coaching because of the money. Now earning five times a coach’s salary
as a bodyguard for a prominent Kyrgyz politician, he did not want to
be named because of the sensitive nature of his work.

“If [sports coaching] had paid well, I’d be back doing what I really
like,” he said.

Alisher (not his real name) abandoned his dream of making his name in
wrestling three years ago and began a criminal career that would
eventually land him in prison.

>From the age of 12, he wanted to enter the Olympics as a Greco-Roman
wrestler, and subsidised his training with a part-time job selling
mobile phones.

“I used to imagine myself winning, hearing our national anthem, seeing
the flag raised, and being awarded a gold medal,” the 23-year-old

When Alisher was 20, friends told him about a man who was looking for
strong athletes and offering them good money, and he felt he could not
turn down the chance.

“I needed to survive somehow,” he explained.

Soon he was extorting protection money from market traders for a local
gangster, and earning around 430 dollars per month, four times what he
made from selling phones.

He also started dealing in drugs, and was convicted but then released
on probation. Alisher has now stopped selling drugs but still works in

Kenjebaev acknowledged there was a major shortfall in funding for
sports, and said that in the current economic climate it was hard to
imagine the situation improving.

Government funding is especially important in a country like
Kyrgyzstan where there is little private sponsorship available.

Kenjebaev said that given the current realities, the government should
at least help sportsmen move into law-enforcement rather than crime.

Young athletes are often enrolled at specialised high schools, and
some go on to attend sports academies.

One route is emigration to former Soviet republics, Europe or the
United States, where sporting skills offer a ticket to better wages.

A minority are able to study for a second profession and enjoy
successful non-sporting careers.

For those who wish to pursue sports in Kyrgyzstan, the career choices
are limited to coaching at sports clubs and colleges, where the pay
puts off everyone but the most dedicated enthusiasts.

Freestyle wrestling coach Karmyshaly Akmatov earns 320 dollars a
month, a top salary for a well-known figure with 20 years’ experience.

He has urged the authorities to provide more support to sportsmen,
especially after they have peaked.

“Many of our champions are unemployed. I’ve told officials about the
situation – we send them to competitions and exploit them to the
maximum, but when they reach the end of their sporting careers, we
leave them without a job,” he said.

Akmatov said organised crime might look like a lucrative option for
young sportsmen, but is was dangerous and almost impossible to get out
of once someone got involved.

“They ask – as a joke – why they should become coaches, and say they’d
rather be a bodyguard, a security guard, [a racketeer] at the Dordoy
market, or an enforcer. But that’s exactly what happens to them,”
Akmatov said.

He knows of at least 20 former wrestlers who have been killed after
joining criminal gangs.

“Their cases have never been solved; they’ve just been closed,” he
said. “They were good guys.”

Yrysbek Mamyshev, a wrestling coach at the national school where
up-and-coming athletes are trained for Kyrgyzstan's Olympic team, says
Olympic medallist wrestlers like Ruslan Tyumenbaev and Kanat Begaliev
are popular role-models who attract many would-be sportsmen.

Nurlan Kuranov, a member of the freestyle national wrestling team,
said sport was one of the few areas where this small and impoverished
Central Asian state could shine at international level, if only the
funding was in place.

“There is this feeling that in other areas we aren’t able to showcase
Kyrgyzstan, but at least we can do it in sports,” he said.

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR journalist in Kyrgyzstan. Anastasia
Akimova is an IWPR intern.

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