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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June 2005, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK
Kazakhs 'not ready for democracy'
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News, Almaty

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President Nazarbayev says economic union will bring peace to the region
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has warned of the destabilising effects of importing Western-style democracy too rapidly to central Asia.

Speaking at the opening of a summit on foreign investment in Almaty, he said democracy should be learned over time.

His remarks follow a wave of popular uprisings in the region, including neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Regional leaders have accused the US or unnamed foreign powers of encouraging the protest movements.

'Widespread corruption'

The international conference on foreign investment was organised in Almaty, Kazakhstan, by America's prestigious Asia Society.

President Nazarbayev said his country welcomed investment in the growing Caspian Sea oil industry and other economic sectors.

But he said that western partners should not, as he put it, try to introduce their principles 100% into Kazakhstan.

Democracy, he said, was a culture which society had to learn over time. The president of Kazakhstan's smaller neighbour, Kyrgyzstan, was driven from power in a popular protest in March.

Then, last month, an anti-government demonstration in another ex-Soviet neighbour, Uzbekistan, was brutally put down by government troops, killing, possibly, hundreds of people.

Some observers have suggested this vast oil-rich country could be another candidate for the popular revolutions which have now unseated three post-Soviet presidents.

It has the same problems of widespread corruption and an elite which has grown very rich through shady business practices.

Improving conditions

But life for many people in Kazakhstan has actually been improving, partly because of massive foreign investment in Caspian Sea oil, and this has blunted the demand for rapid political change.

In both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, popular protest has been driven by frustration with the lack of economic growth, 14 years after the end of the Soviet Union.

Mr Nazarbayev repeated his assertion that the best way to bring prosperity and stability to central Asia would be to recreate an economic union with open borders for people and capital.

The region is now divided into five independent republics whose jealous control of their borders has stifled regional trade.

Country profile: Kazakhstan
26 Oct 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Kazakhstan
09 Jan 05 |  Country profiles

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