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US-backed bio-weapons lab irks Kazakh opposition

by Staff Writers
Almaty (AFP) Jan 18, 2011
The Kazakh opposition voiced alarm Tuesday over comments by the US ambassador revealing that the United States intended to help the republic build a "dangerous biological pathogens" facility in its largest city Almaty.

The comments by outgoing US Ambassador Richard Hoagland were made at an official reception last week and then published on the embassy website.

Hoagland praised the two countries' cooperation on efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.

"Just very recently, Kazakhstan and the United States, with the assistance of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, fully secured for the next half century ... enough highly enriched uranium and plutonium to make 775 nuclear weapons," Hoagland said.

He then added: "And today, we are closely engaged with Kazakhstan to construct a world-class facility in Almaty to secure dangerous biological pathogens."

The US embassy was unable to provide further details about the site when contacted by telephone Tuesday.

Hoagland's remarks have been picked up by the opposition, with leaders of the Azat National Social Democratic party writing to Prime Minister Karim Massimov with a request for further details about any agreement.

"Why has Kazakhstan been selected for the creation of such a dangerous storage site, which is especially located in a highly-seismic zone of the republic's largest city?," asked the letter.

It also demanded to know why the opposition had learned about it from US officials rather than the republic's government.

With a population of nearly 1.5 million people, Almaty served as the Central Asian republic's capital until 1997 and remains both its financial centre and largest city.

The Kazakh state committee for health and disease control said in a statement issued to AFP that the centre would "develop and test new diagnostic methods and further identify, study and store (bacterial) strains."

It added that similar "reference laboratories" had already been built in the United States, Canada, Ukraine and Georgia.

Three other facilities already store such bacterial strains in Almaty, the Kazakh committee said.

Kazakhstan hosted several secret military programmes in the Soviet era, with a biological weapons centre built on the Aral Sea island of Vozrozhdeniye.

Semipalatinsk in the northeast of the country was also the Soviet Union's primary nuclear weapons test site.

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