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Clinton seeks more European help in Afghanistan

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on a European security organization today to play a bigger role in helping stabilize Afghanistan and to do more to strengthen the voice of human rights groups worldwide.

In the aftermath of the leak of huge numbers of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, Clinton also urged a greater commitment to press freedom, but she made no overt reference to the embarrassing episode.

“It is not enough for a constitution to guarantee freedom of the press if, in reality, journalists are put under intense pressure and even assaulted,” she told the opening session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s first summit meeting in 11 years. “

She made no explicit mention of WikiLeaks, nor did it come up in other officials’ speeches on the first day of the summit.

On Afghanistan, Clinton said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can play an important role to improve border security, counter illicit trafficking, boost legitimate trade, promote economic development and help develop national institutions.

She urged a recommitment to what she called “comprehensive security” – not just protection against armed attack but also protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The OSCE was born in the 1970s to nurture rapprochement between Cold War enemies. It is the only regional security organization in which the United States and Russia are both members.

Holding its two-day summit in Astana, the gleaming new Kazakh capital rising from the sparsely populated northern steppes, was a coup for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev is eager to portray Kazakhstan as progressive and sophisticated, though critics say the country suppresses opposition, violates human rights and disregards Western standards of democracy.

“At the end of Kazakhstan’s year at the helm of the leading world human rights organization, many observers are left looking at the significant work Astana still has to accomplish at home,” U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, vice president of the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly, said.

WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables may not help the country’s image.

One note allegedly written by a U.S. diplomat in Astana details scenes of hard-drinking hedonism by several senior Kazakh ministers. The same report describes Nazarbayev as horse-obsessed and given to taking refuge from the often-frigid capital at a holiday home in the United Arab Emirates.

Other prospective conference delegates described less than flatteringly in the leaked cables include Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. That may leave Clinton with some explaining to do.

Kazakhstan insists it is a force for stability and prosperity in the region and that it has actively engaged with civil society to dispel the misgivings of those that would dismiss the country as unresponsive and unaccountable.

But a group of activists from nearby Turkmenistan complained that the Kazakh government had denied it visas to attend a parallel event in Astana.

“The authorities of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan exerted as much force as they could to block our arrival in Astana,” the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights said.

Delegates are also likely to look with concern at another of Kazakhstan’s southern neighbors, Kyrgyzstan, which has been wracked this year by waves of political and ethnic violence. Kyrgyzstan is also an OSCE member.

An explosion rocked the center of Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, on Tuesday, slightly wounding two police officers, a day after security forces battled Islamic militants in a restive southern city.

Security officials said the attacks appear to be part of a systematic attempt to foment turbulence in the Central Asian nation.