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U.S. News Site Blocked in Kazakhstan After Stinging Expo Review

by AFP

Foreign Policy website banned after it blasts ‘dull’ and ‘poorly attended’ Astana Expo 2017

Internet providers in Kazakhstan have blocked access to the Washington-based Foreign Policy news website after it gave an unflattering review of an extravagant expo being held in the oil-rich country.

An AFP reporter who tried to access the site through two different Internet service providers on Tuesday, including the biggest, Kazakhtelecom, in which the government has a controlling stake, got messages that the connection had timed out. The block appeared to start late Monday.

In an article published last week under the headline “Kazakhstan Spent $5 Billion on a Death Star and It Doesn’t Even Shoot Lasers,” Foreign Policy said the event held in the capital Astana was dull and poorly attended.

The country’s information minister Dauren Abayev appeared to confirm on Tuesday that access to the site was being blocked, but said it was not being done on the orders of his ministry. “We are now looking into this. We don’t rule out that someone did this deliberately, in order to turn up the heat on this topic. There were no actions on our part,” Abayev said in comments to the to Tengri News website. But he also accused the Foreign Policy reporter, James Palmer, of writing “untruths and misinterpreting facts.”

A spokesman for the Astana Expo 2017, whose theme is “Future Energy,” claimed during a press briefing on Monday that Palmer had never even visited Kazakhstan. But Palmer, the Asia editor at Foreign Policy, posted on Twitter photographs of his passport showing entry and exit stamps, as well as a ticket stub from the expo.

Abayev played down the allegation by the spokesman, describing it as an “emotional reaction.”

Some Kazakh news sites—though not the major ones under tight state control—published translations of the Foreign Policy article. One of the claims made by Palmer was that many pavilions at the expo “were barren of anyone except staff.”

An AFP correspondent who visited the expo’s opening day on June 10 found the event well attended with long queues at several pavilions. But an AFP photographer said crowds had dropped “perhaps by half” by the next day.

The government says the expo cost Kazakhstan $1.3 billion, in a country still reeling from the collapse of global energy prices in 2014. The country is keen to portray itself as a Central Asian success story, though it often shows a humorless response to criticism, as seen with the 2006 spoof film Borat, which is still banned from Kazakh cinemas.

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Ayuna June 21, 2017 - 2:03 pm

Negative people provide negative news. FP claims that Expo is empty because only 2 or 3 MM people plan to attend compared to 73 MM attendants in Shanghai. If they bother to compare population of China (1,3 bln) and of Kazakhstan (18 MM), they would realize that Expo in Astana is doing extremely well. Can’t agree more with Abayev’s words – Palmer has never been at Expo, otherwise he would see how many kids visited the exhibition and how enchanted they were by science exhibits in Sphere and pavillions. Btw, Ramadan ends on June 24th, and many families postponed trip to Expo to July. Curiosity, discovery, future technologies – this is what Expo is about. Kazakhstan created the most modern science museum in the world. I would recommend everyone to attend it see it with your own eyes. Don’t rely on journalists like Palmer. Fake news!

Talgat June 22, 2017 - 8:53 am

It was pretty empty when I was there 1 day after opening. the theme was quite restrictive even though some countries try to put a spin on it – energy = people.

Most pavilions are empty except for a few such as Korea. It might get crowded post Ramadan.

Still, there is only so many posters/videos talking about electric cars and wind/solar energy I can bear.

2 hours and I had enough.

Ayuna June 22, 2017 - 4:48 pm

Second day was opening of Ministerial conference at Congress Hall. A lot of people with Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Russia, UN etc. In the afternoon I was at Sphere – pavilion was full of people, it was crowded and I hardly could get to elevator to the 8th floor. In the evening – parade and music show. It really reminds Epcot at Disney Florida. A lot of teens and teenage kids. Large territory, a lot of activities and many pavilions – maybe that is why it looks empty, but in reality a lot of people comfortably located in many different places. Though for someone with long experience in China and India any other country in the world would look empty. Just don’t forget Kazakhstan is 18 MM people vs 1.5 bln in China. 73MM attendants during Shanghai show is nothing.
Btw, how large is the circulation of Foreign Policy. Just wonder how many people actually know that it exists.


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