Freed Kazakh opposition leader hasn't changed political position

A Kazakh opposition leader who was jailed for more than three years pledged Tuesday to stay in politics and urged President Nursultan Nazarbayev to deliver on his promises of democratic reforms. "My position ... hasn't changed. I'm absolutely convinced that for our society and country to develop we need democratic reforms," Galymzhan Zhakiyanov said at his first meeting with reporters since his release on Saturday.

Zhakiyanov, 42, leader of the now-disbanded Democratic Choice party, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2002 on abuse-of-office charges, which he denied. He became the highest-profile prisoner in this energy-rich ex-Soviet republic. His jailing was seen by supporters and rights groups as politically motivated.

A panel of judges granted him early release following the Dec. 4 re-election of long-ruling Nazarbayev in balloting that Western observers and the opposition called flawed. "We all are waiting for changes," Zhakiyanov said. "I hope that the elected president will keep his promises that he gave before, during and after the elections." Zhakiyanov, however, added that he was "concerned whether President Nazarbayev is morally ready to carry out the changes that he has pledged."

Nazarbayev has shown little tolerance for dissent during his 16-year rule. However, one of his campaign promises was to allow more political freedom. Hundreds of cheering supporters welcomed Zhakiyanov home Sunday at a railway station in the commercial capital, Almaty. Under Kazakh law, Zhakiyanov was eligible for early release on good behavior after serving half his term.

Zhakiyanov, a former adviser to Nazarbayev and regional governor, was arrested soon after he and several other young reform-minded government officials had set up the Democratic Choice coalition and demanded political reforms, presenting the first serious political challenge to Nazarbayev. They all were immediately sacked.

"Unfortunately, the ideas that were voiced by the Democratic Choice founders in 2001, such as decentralization of government, increased role of parliament, freedom of media, judicial and election system reforms, remain unrealized," Zhakiyanov said. Zhakiyanov was once seen as one of Kazakhstan's most promising politicians and his release is expected to boost the ranks of the fledgling opposition, reports the AP. N.U.