ALMATY -- Activists in Kazakhstan are calling on the secretary-general of the OSCE to return a high state award given to him by President Nursultan Nazarbaev if the Kazakh leader agrees to hold a national referendum to prolong his term, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
Nazarbaev awarded OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut with the Dostyq (Friendship) Order during the OSCE summit held in the Kazakh capital, Astana, last month.
Activists said de Brichambaut should urge Nazarbaev to "respect democratic principles and refuse to hold the referendum."
The proposed referendum would extend Nazarbaev's term in office -- which is set to expire in 2012 -- until 2020.
A self-styled initiative group that raised the referendum idea last month announced on January 12 that more than 5 million people, which is more than half the country's eligible voters, have signed petitions backing the plan.
Kazakhstan has some 9 million registered voters.
Analysts and opponents of Nazarbaev have criticized the plan as backsliding following some quasi-democratic gains in Kazakhstan, where Nazarbaev has held a tight grip on power for more than two decades.
The Kazakh Central Election Commission (OSK) announced on January 13 that 194,000 signatures collected by the initiative group were found to be invalid, but 5,016,000 signatures were approved.
Critics were surprised that the OSK was able to check so many signatures in two days, since the initiative group turned the signatures over to the commission on January 11.
According to Kazakh laws, a referendum proposal backed by more than half of eligible voters must be sent to the parliament for discussion, OSK officials said.
Nazarbaev said last week he does not support the holding of the referendum.
But both chambers of Kazakh's parliament (Senate and Mazhilis) are expected to discuss the issue on January 14 and could vote to override his objection.
The United States' outgoing envoy to Astana earlier this month expressed disappointment with the notion of such a referendum.
Read in Kazakh here