22 Nov 2006 15:22:50 GMT
By Maria Golovnina
ALMATY, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Kazakh police have knocked down part of a village housing Hare Krishna followers, the group said on Wednesday calling the move an attack on religious freedom.
Mainly Muslim Kazakhstan recognised Hare Krishna — a form of Hinduism — as an official religious movement in 2002.
However, the movement has run into problems since the authorities accused it of illegally acquiring land near the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty.
“Dozens of police arrived here yesterday with a bulldozer and destroyed 13 houses. Many people were left without shelter,” Maxim Varfolomeyev, a Hare Krishna spokesman, told Reuters.
“No one expected such an act of vandalism from the authorities.”
Almaty district police were not available for comment.
The raid took place as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, seeking to promote his country as Central Asia’s most tolerant and stable nation, met British Prime Minister Tony Blair for talks in London.
Kazakhstan has rediscovered its Muslim roots after it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Acts of religious intolerance are rare in Kazakhstan, which is also home to a large Orthodox Christian community. However, Nazarbayev has become increasingly sensitive to what he sees as a rising threat of religious extremism.
The Hare Krishna movement, whose followers practise vegetarianism and yoga, is believed to have ancient Indian roots but has become known around the world since the 1960s.
Thirty Hare Krishna families, most of them Kazakh citizens, lived in about 60 summer huts in the village near Almaty, Varfolomeyev said. He added that courts were currently considering 20 cases against the movement.
“There is a view among them (authorities) that Krishnaites are trying to distance Kazakhs from their traditional religion, Islam,” he said. “If they evict all of us, the community will be destroyed because that is where we are officially registered.”