* Employer says attack could be linked to his work
* Local prosecutors open attempted murder case
* CPJ, OSCE demand thorough investigation
ALMATY, April 20 (Reuters) - Unknown assailants shot and stabbed a newspaper journalist in Kazakhstan late on Thursday in an attack his employers and international rights groups said could have been linked to his reports critical of the Central Asian nation's government.
Attackers opened fire on Lukpan Akhmedyarov, 36, a reporter with independent newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya, outside his home in the city of Uralsk. He is now in hospital in a serious but stable condition after surgery.
Prosecutors in the northwestern city, where the newspaper is based, have launched an attempted murder case and police had begun an investigation, Gulzhan Kanatova, police spokeswoman for the West Kazakhstan region, said on Friday by telephone from Uralsk.
Uralskaya Nedelya said on its website that its chief editor and Akhmedyarov's wife believed the attack to have been linked to the victim's professional work and civic activism.
Prosecutors and his colleagues said he received eight knife wounds and two shots from a traumatic gun and also underwent surgery on his skull after being hit on the head.
"We knew that he was being watched, as were we," the website, www.uralskweek.kz, quoted chief editor Tamara Yeslyamova as saying.
Authorities in Kazakhstan, an oil-producing former Soviet republic of 16.7 million people, show little tolerance for critical media. Several opposition activists and journalists have been arrested in recent months.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Akhmedyarov's reporting had been critical of the government and that the reporter had been the subject of at least three defamation suits in the past.
Akhmedyarov had told colleagues several days before the attack that his wife's employers were telling her to advise him to stop writing critical stories, the CPJ cited Yeslyamova as saying.
"This near-fatal attack on Lukpan Akhmedyarov shows just how dangerous it is to be an independent investigative journalist in Kazakhstan," CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said in a statement.
"The authorities must thoroughly investigate this brutal assault and bring the perpetrators to justice," he said.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Kazakhstan chaired in 2010, urged authorities to investigate the attack.
"It is of crucial importance to immediately investigate this crime, identify whether it is connected to the victim's journalistic work and bring its perpetrators to justice," Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE's representative on media freedom, said in a statement. (Reporting by Robin Paxton and Maria Gordeyeva Editing by Maria Golovnina)