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U.S. Criticizes Move To Extend Kazakh President's Term Via Referendum

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

The United States has condemned efforts under way in Kazakhstan to hold a national referendum to extend the term in office of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan said Washington believes that a national referendum to replace the presidential elections guaranteed by Kazakhstan's constitution would be a "setback for democracy in Kazakhstan."

The U.S. government believes it is "vital that the government and citizens of Kazakhstan respect their international obligations," the statement continued.

An Initiative Group proposed last month that Kazakhstan hold the referendum to keep Nazarbaev on as president until 2020, bypassing elections scheduled for 2012.

Yerlan Sydykov, head of the Initiative Group collecting signatures, said Kazakhstan is a sovereign nation with the right to decide its own course for the future.

"Every country has the right to express its opinion, but every country also has the right to do anything that is in line with its laws, and that is a sign of democracy," Sydykov said. "We have our own constitution. We have the right to decide our own future and that is our greatest achievement. We are not undermining democracy and we are not breaking the constitution. We are working in the framework of our law."

The Initiative Group is required to gather some 200,000 signatures of citizens who favor holding a referendum on a presidential term extension.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports the Initiative Group has already collected more than 2 million signatures.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, with agency reports