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President says need to regulate religion
By Aleksandr Bogatik
ASTANA – Kazakhstan, behind a call from President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is stepping up its anti-terror efforts, following recent acts of violence.
“There is a growing risk of interethnic and interreligious conflict. The threat of a new onslaught of international terrorism remains high,” Nazarbayev told parliament September 1.
He reminded parliament of an upcoming bill on religious activities and urged its passage. The bill’s main requirements are re-registration of all religious organisations, banning of the practise of naming mosques after those who funded them, and analysis of what every religious group is teaching.
Nazarbayev also called for dealing with illegal mosques.
This is the first time terror concerns have come from such a high level, analyst Yegor Vasilyev said.
“Nazarbayev talked about the issue of terrorism before, but on a regional scale, not in the context of Kazakhstan,” he said. “Such a speech indicates serious concern.”
Only in the last few weeks did the government take significant steps to counter terrorism, he said.
The sudden attention to terrorism follows a July attack by an armed group in Aktobe that killed two policemen and a special forces soldier. In June bomb blasts in Aktobe and Astana killed three people.
“(Efforts have) included closing extremist websites, working with religious faiths and mosques and allocating funds for counter-terror measures,” Vasilyev said. “First, the security forces and the borders were reinforced, but the government figured out that ideological work was far more important.”
The general prosecutor’s press office said it has monitored more than 10,000 websites and has blocked 51 that contained extremist information and endangered national security.
“We will likely continue monitoring sites for similar information,” the press office said.
The Agency for Religious Affairs will conduct extensive “examinations of religious regulations and other (legal) documents,” Kairat Lama Sharif, the agency chairman, said.
If parliament passes the bill Nazarbayev supports, “All of Kazakhstan’s religious associations, of which there are currently about 4,500, will be required to re-register,” Sharif said. “As part of the re-registration, their activities will be analysed.”
Expert opinion is very important to the agency, Sharif said. “That’s why Astana will hold the (country’s) first forum for religious scholars on September 29-30.”
Along with the bill on religious activities and associations, parliament is scheduled to consider the Bill on Special State Organs, “which will actually be a reworked law on national security; that is, it will make amendments affecting the provision of security nationwide,” Vasilyev said.
At the same time, Kazakhstan will increase its counter-terrorism spending to 13.5 billion KZT (US $91.6m) in 2012, a 23.5% increase from 2011, said Finance Minister Bolat Zhamishev at a governmental meeting August 24.
“We are planning to use these funds to acquire military and special equipment, artillery, chemical weapons, personal body armour, firearms, ammunition, mobile communications systems and special off-road vehicles and to purchase and overhaul aircraft,” Zhamishev said.
While Kazakhstan is seemingly stable, it has an even more perilous geographical position than Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Zhumagulu Bakytzhanov, a Central Asia and Caucasus analyst, said.
“While the danger for these countries mainly comes from the Fergana Valley and Afghanistan, for Kazakhstan, Dagestan gets added on top of all of this, and (Dagestan) is in far worse shape now than the Fergana Valley,” he said.
“Kazakhstan is, of course, concerned that many countries have begun to perceive it as a country with a terrorist menace,” Bakytzhanov said. “That’s precisely the reason for all these measures – to show the world that Kazakhstan does not intend to linger in this company.”