KYRGYZSTAN - A reporter and vocal government critic in Kyrgyzstan was stabbed and beaten in an attack that opposition parties described as an attempt to stamp out freedom of expression.
Syrgak Abdyldayev, a journalist with the Reporter-Bishkek weekly, was stabbed repeatedly by four assailants after leaving his office Tuesday evening, the newspaper's editor, Turat Akimov, said.
Critics of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev say the government is trying to stifle opposition before possibly calling an early presidential election this year in a bid to shore up his power. Electricity shortages and rampant unemployment are causing widespread discontent in the former Soviet nation.
"Attacks on journalists - and even murders - have been taking place more and more often recently, endangering not just reporters themselves but also freedom of speech as a whole," the opposition Ata-Meken party said.
Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev will take personal charge of the probe into the attack on Abdyldayev, a spokesman said.
A popular uprising in May 2005 brought down Bakiyev's predecessor, Askar Akayev.
Press conditions have deteriorated over the past three years, with journalists routinely facing prosecution and the passing in 2008 of repressive new media legislation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a recent report.
The group condemned the attack and called for a thorough and effective investigation.
"Kyrgyzstan must not allow impunity in attacks on reporters to chill the media," said Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator.
Bakiyev last month announced closure of a US base in impoverished Kyrgyzstan shortly after Russia promised his country US$2.1 billion ($4.21 billion) in loans and aid. Moscow denies influencing the decision.
Some analysts say Bakiyev hopes to capitalise on the cash windfall to secure re-election.