In Rare Criticism, Newspaper Scolds Nazarbayev

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A leading Kazakh newspaper criticized President Nursultan Nazarbayev's state of the nation address on Friday, a rare voice of dissent in the Central Asian state's tightly controlled media.

Western media groups have accused Kazakhstan of silencing independent media in a country where television and newspapers almost never portray Nazarbayev in negative light.

But in an unusually open critique of the veteran leader, the Delovaya Nedelya weekly attacked his speech as hypocritical. "The speech offered no answers to key questions," the privately owned paper wrote in a front-page story headlined "Silence About the Crucial." Its author was not identified.

The weekly, which usually focuses on business news, said Nazarbayev largely ignored bread-and-butter issues such as crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure, safety at coal mines and problems in the banking sector stemming from global credit woes. In his speech on Wednesday, Nazarbayev ordered his government to cut spending to tame inflation, raise its weight in the oil sector and urged his people to save electricity.

The paper reported that, as Nazarbayev spoke, a line of 4,000 people outside a government building in Almaty turned into a mass stampede as people raced to sign up to a state housing program in subfreezing temperatures.