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Israeli, Kazakh Presidents Open Religious Congress


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev poses for a group picture with participants in the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev poses for a group picture with participants in the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

The third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions has opened in the Kazakh capital, Astana, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev opened the congress, which includes religious leaders and academics from more than 60 countries. He said a new world order could not be built through force, only dialogue.

Israeli President Simon Peres was among the speakers at the congress, though one member of the Iranian delegation left the room before Peres began speaking.

The first two religious congresses took place in Kazakhstan in 2003 and 2006.

The Kazakh government has been sharply criticized for a new, more restrictive bill on religion -- already passed by the parliament -- that demands that all religious organizations operating in Kazakhstan reregister with authorities. The legislation is being held up by the country's Constitutional Council.

Kazakhstan has also come under pressure from international and local rights groups for its harsh treatment of many Muslim groups, including Salafis, many of whom have sought refuge in the Czech Republic because of the persecution they face in Kazakhstan.

Other nontraditional religious groups -- such as some Baptist groups and the Hare Krishna movement -- have had their property confiscated or destroyed in recent years.

The congress concludes on July 2.

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