Kazakhstan media hit by raid, court order

Kazakhstan's police on Thursday have raided the offices of a news website and taken steps to halt the publication of a newspaper critical of the government, in what a media watchdog group says was an "unprecedented offensive" against government critics.

Guljan Yergaliyeva, an outspoken opposition figure and owner of the Guljan website, said police officers came to her office Thursday to take her to court over nonpayment of libel damages.

Yergaliyeva was last year ordered to pay almost $34,300 in damages to the wife of high-ranking anti-corruption official that Guljan website alleged had transferred millions of dollars onto a bank account in Dubai.

Respublika, a weekly newspaper that prints its editions outside Kazakhstan and has them flown to the Central Asian nation for distribution, said a court in Almaty has ordered the confiscation upon arrival of the next issue.

Most media outlets in the ex-Soviet republic are either state-owned or pro-government.

Prosecutors said Wednesday they want Respublika banned for extremism and incitement to overthrowing the government. The seizure of the publication appears to have come in response to that request.

Efforts by the General Prosecutor's office in Kazakhstan to ban Respublika and Vzglyad newspapers , and satellite telelvision station K+, have been criticized by French-based Reporters Without Borders.

"The government is using the pretext of combatting extremism to launch an unprecedented offensive against its critics," it said.

The push against media follows the sentencing to 7 1/2 years in jailed in October of opposition Alga party leader Vladimir Kozlov for allegedly fomenting a riot last year in a western oil town.