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Kazakhstan Closes Nuclear Testing Range

From Associated Press

The president of the republic of Kazakhstan on Thursday issued a decree closing a major Soviet nuclear weapons testing range.

Kazakhs, alarmed that their mighty Russian neighbor wants to renegotiate their long border, demonstrated throughout the republic, located on the Soviet Union’s southern steppes.

Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi hurried to the Kazakh capital, Alma Ata, to ease their fears, as did a delegation dispatched by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who warned that “things can snowball.”

The decree issued by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev closed the nation’s Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons testing range and demanded unspecified compensation for health problems and birth defects blamed on testing fallout.

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There has been no testing at Semipalatinsk for two years because of public pressure. But Nazarbayev’s decree said that more than 500 nuclear weapons tests had been conducted there since 1949, “damaging the health of thousands of people.”

“In view of the fact that the Kazakh republic has fulfilled its duty for the creation of a nuclear potential that ensured strategic military parity between the U.S.S.R. and the USA and, taking into consideration the demands of the Kazakh public, it has been deemed expedient to close the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground immediately,” the decree said.

The national Tass news agency said the Kazakh government wants to convert the range into a research center.

The Soviet government has designated the Novaya Zemlya region in the Soviet Arctic as its main test site.

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