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Opposition Chief Dies in Tajikistan

September 22, 1998 GMT

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) _ Armed assailants shot and killed a leader of Tajikistan’s opposition today in the capital of the Central Asian nation.

Otakhon Latifi, 62, was shot twice in the chest and once in the head as he left his apartment in downtown Dushanbe, the Interior Ministry said. There was no claim of responsibility for the killing.

In the past few months, Latifi, a former journalist, was twice attacked and beaten on the street by unknown assailants.

He returned to Tajikistan a year ago following peace accords that ended five years of civil war between Tajikistan’s hard-line government and the opposition.

Since then, Latifi had chaired a panel for legal issues under the National Reconciliation Commission, which worked to stabilize the former Soviet republic.

As part of the peace plan, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov appointed several opposition leaders to key Cabinet posts. In addition, the opposition was incorporated into the Tajik armed forces.

Despite the peace accord, Tajikistan has remained restive. There have been frequent clashes between the government and the opposition. Many warlords do not recognize the peace deal; others wage turf battles with one another.

The opposition blamed the killing on an unspecified ``third force,″ trying to undermine the peace deal.

``This heinous murder is a blow to ... the peace process in Tajikistan, dealt by those who want to destabilize the situation,″ opposition leader Khodzhiakbar Turadzhonzoda said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Government officials said the killing was intended to tarnish the image of Tajikistan while the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslim community, was visiting.