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Kazakhstan passes media law despite US pressure

Written by: Staff

ALMATY, July 5 (Reuters) Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev today signed a new legislation tightening controls on the media despite criticism from the United States and Europe.

Nazarbayev vetoed similar legislation in 2004 after the West criticised earlier plans to tighten the law.

This time the United States and Europe's main democracy watchdog attacked the move, saying it would further harm press freedom in the Central Asian state.

The presidential Web site www.akorda.kz listed the law among the various papers signed by Nazarbayev today.

''I am shocked and disappointed,'' said Tamara Kaleyeva, head of Adil Soz, a Kazakh press freedom group. ''Nothing worked, including calls from the international community.'' The amendments put reporters under tighter state control and make obtaining a licence to carry out journalistic work harder for new outlets in a country where media are already under strong pressure from the state.

The changes raise the number of reasons why a news outlet might be denied a licence and bars editors from working for three years if their newspaper or magazine has been shut down by a court -- a relatively common occurrence for some pro-opposition newspapers.

The United States and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had both called on Nazarbayev to scrap the proposal.

The government has defended the amendments saying they would ''safeguard the public's trust in the media.'' Most Kazakh media do not criticise Nazarbayev's policies. Two opposition leaders have been killed in Kazakhstan since late 2005, but the killings and the ensuing investigations have failed to make headline news.

Reuters PKS GC1806

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