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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Kazakhstan set to hold early poll
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. File photo
Mr Nazarbayev has been president for 17 years
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has dissolved parliament and called early elections for August.

The move comes after parliament passed constitutional changes aimed at giving it greater powers.

Mr Nazarbayev said a group of deputies asked him to call elections in order to implement the changes more quickly.

The opposition say the changes will make Mr Nazarbayev more powerful, because they will allow him to stand for an unlimited number of terms.

Mr Nazarbayev told members of the presidential party, Nur-Otan, that he had set 18 August as the date for the election.

The current parliament was originally due to sit until 2009.

'Historic role'

"Constitutional reforms will significantly push us towards creating a democratic, free and lawful society," the president said.

Map of Central Asia

There are currently 77 members of parliament, only one of whom represents the opposition. The proposed reforms would increase the number of MPs to 107.

The new, enlarged lower chamber will have additional powers to pick the prime minister.

Parties will also be allowed to nominate officials to the central election commission, a change proposed by the democracy watchdog, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The organisation has so far never recognised a Kazakh election as free and fair.

The wider reform package, most of which has already been signed into law, also lifts any limit on Mr Nazarbayev's own term in office.

The opposition says that in effect, it will allow Mr Nazarbayev, who has been in power for 17 years, to remain in office indefinitely.

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