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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 January 2006, 19:14 GMT
Kazakh opposition leader released
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News, in Almaty

Poster showing Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President Nazarbayev has just won a landslide election victory
The man who has been described as Kazakhstan's last political prisoner has been freed after spending three-and-a-half years in detention.

Hundreds of well-wishers gathered in the country's largest city, Almaty, to welcome home the opposition leader, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov.

He has been released on parole after half of his seven year sentence.

Supporters waved placards and brought flowers in chilly winter weather at Almaty's main railway station.

Mr Zhakiyanov is seen as a hero by the political opposition.

He served his sentence in a remote prison colony in the northern Kazakh steppe, an area which once hosted thousands of political exiles from Stalin's Russia.

Party banned

Mr Zhakiyanov is one of the founders of the Democratic Choice Party that has called for political reforms in Kazakhstan.

A former regional governor, he was arrested four years ago, shortly after the party was created.

He was found guilty of abuse of power while in office, but Mr Zhakiyanov and his supporters say the charges were politically motivated - an attempt by the President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to get rid of a potential rival.

Mr Nazarbayev himself won a landslide victory in elections last month, and is now assured of at least another seven years in power.

Mr Zhakiyanov's party was banned a year ago but he said he intended to continue in politics.

The Kazakh authorities often use the courts to restrict the activities of opposition groups.

But opposition parties have struggled to achieve a wide following in Kazakhstan, where political repression is not so severe as in some of its central Asian neighbours.

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