ASTANA -- An initiative group says it has collected more than 4 million signatures in support of a national referendum to prolong President Nursultan Nazarbaev's term in office until 2020, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
The idea to hold the referendum was raised last month by a self-styled "initiative group" headed by Erlan Sydyqov. Sydyqov told RFE/RL on January 10 that the documents with the signatures will be submitted to Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission today.
According to Kazakhstan's elections law, 200,000 signatures are needed for a referendum to be held.
Opposition activists claim that people are being coerced into signing the petitions for the referendum.
Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan's leader since 1989, has rejected appeals by both houses of parliament to hold a referendum to extend his term in office.
But Sydyqov told RFE/RL the rejection does not apply to his initiative group, which is continuing to collect signatures.
Meanwhile, presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbaev told the KazTAG new agency on January 10 that Nazarbaev is ready to take part in the presidential elections scheduled for 2012. Yertysbaev added that in the event that parliament is able to "overcome the presidential rejection," Nazarbaev would be ready for the referendum.
Because of amendments to the constitution adopted in 2007, there is no limit to the number of terms Nazarbaev can serve as president.
In May, Nazarbaev officially rejected a lawmakers' initiative granting him the status of "leader of the nation." But he did not veto the bill, which eventually came into force and granted him and his family privileges and immunity from any future prosecution.
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