Rice Wraps Up Trip to Central Asia
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has concluded her visit to Central Asia. That's a region that's widely ruled by authoritarian regimes and vital to American foreign policy interests. Secretary Rice has been talking about US interests but also trying to encourage political reform for many countries. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that message has received a chilly reception.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
Rice gave her signature democracy speech in a new university in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. She pointed out how much Astana has changed, now a gleaming city in the midst of a building boom, thanks to high oil prices. Rice said Kazakhstan now has an opportunity to become a leader in the region, and she urged the country's longtime ruler to hold free and fair elections in December. But one of the few opposition figures in the audience said there's no chance of that.
Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) No. Zero. In terms of the current president, it's impossible.
KELEMEN: Bulat Abilov is the campaign manager for one of the opposition leaders trying to run against Kazakhstan's only post-Soviet president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Abilov said that masked men raided one of the campaign's offices just a day before Rice arrived. And he said he fears Secretary Rice isn't pressing Nazarbayev hard enough to stop what he said has been the harassment of opposition journalists and candidates.
Mr. BULAT ABILOV (Campaign Manager): (Foreign language spoken)
KELEMEN: He said the main issue for the US is energy cooperation, then the war on terrorism. Democracy and human rights, he said, only comes in third.
Rice didn't take the opportunity then to criticize the raid on the opposition party office. But she was asked again to address the opposition concerns later in the day, this time in the opulent presidential administration building with President Nazarbayev by her side.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (US State Department): I think if we were interested only in oil and the war on terrorism, we would not be speaking in the way that we are about democracy here or in Saudi Arabia or throughout the Middle East. And so, quite clearly, while we do have interests in terms of resources and in terms of the struggle for terrorism, we have in no way allowed those interests to get in the way of our open and clear defense of freedom.
KELEMEN: A US official traveling with the secretary said Nazarbayev wants to be a respected leader and understands the need to hold a legitimate vote. The Kazakh president insisted that candidates will have access to media and observers will be on hand. He simply brushed off allegations that authorities are harassing opposition figures.
President NURSULTAN NAZARBAYEV (Kazakhstan): (Through Translator) When I said freedom of speech, I said--I underlined that this should not be freedom of misinformation. So I think that our opposition here has provided you with some of that kind of information, which is not actually good.
KELEMEN: In Tajikistan, Rice said she also encouraged that country's longtime ruler, Emomali Rakhmonov, to hold free and fair elections. Her Tajik counterpart said simply that vote is a long way off. But in the meantime, human rights activists and Western experts on the region say Rakhmonov has been cracking down on dissent and making it tougher for US-funded, non-governmental groups to work. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY returns in just a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick.
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