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Last Updated: Friday, 17 August 2007, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Profile: Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev during a visit to Ukraine, Kiev, Nov. 18, 2005.
Mr Nazarbayev has been leader since Kazakhstan's independence
Nursultan Nazarbayev has delivered relative prosperity to his Central Asian nation since he was elected president of independent Kazakhstan in 1991.

Annual economic growth has averaged nearly 10% since 2001, and has been credited with ensuring the country's stability.

But he is also perceived to have concentrated power in his hands and those of his family; to have suppressed the opposition; and to have failed to deliver elections deemed free and fair.

He raised eyebrows earlier this year with a package of reforms he said would move Kazakhstan towards a democratic, free and lawful society.

While the changes give parliament more powers, they also allow him to return for an unlimited number of terms.

He called snap parliamentary elections two years early - for 18 August - so that the constitutional changes can be implemented more quickly.

Cosy links

President Nazarbayev was born in the Almaty region, the son of a shepherd.

He was unsuccessful in his application to the department of chemistry in Kazakh State University and instead trained as a steel smelter in Ukraine.

Those who knew him say he was always determined to succeed.

"Even at university when we'd all go off to the disco, he would stay behind working," fellow classmate Makash Tatimov is quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

In 1967, he assumed the first of a series of Communist Party posts. He was elected president of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990.

Then, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, he was re-elected president in a popular vote.

But he has attracted criticism for the amount of power and wealth held by him, his relatives and his close associates.

His daughters, a son-in-law, sister-in-law and nephew all hold positions of influence.

His sister-in-law, Svetlana, for example, is accused of using her role as the head of the printing press used by opposition newspapers to block articles critical of the administration.

His eldest daughter Dariga runs her own political party, and is rumoured to be preparing to succeed her father.

Mr Nazarbayev now appears keen to lift his country's international profile.

He is pushing for Kazakhstan to chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009.

Last year, he announced that he believes Kazakhstan will become one of the world's 50 most developed countries and one of the world's top 10 oil exporters in the next seven years.

Having one of the world's biggest unexplored reserves of oil, Kazakhstan is certainly in a good position to exploit these to gain greater international clout.


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