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Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)
The upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament has unanimously backed a plan to hold a referendum that would extend the term in office of President Nursultan Nazarbaev by another 10 years.

The lower house already backed a similar bill.

Kazakhstan's opposition has condemned the "people's initiative" by a self-styled citizens' forum as a ploy to avoid a presidential election scheduled for 2012.

The United States has criticized it as a setback for democracy.

The legislation asks Nazarbaev to amend the constitution and call a referendum.

Supporters say they have collected more than 2.5 million signatures of citizens in favor of a referendum.

The 70-year-old Nazarbaev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years, has to give his final word on the referendum.

Scattered protests by opponents of the referendum have been met with arrests and the dispersal of demonstrations in various cities.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland used his final news conference in Astana to criticize the referendum, saying Kazakhs "should have a bigger choice than simply 'yes' or 'no'" in order "to have a democratic voice in their country."

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports
A policeman detains one of the opposition activists holding the so-called "single picket" in support of jailed opposition members in Moscow on January 5.
Moscow police have forcibly dispersed three separate picket actions in support of jailed Russian opposition leaders.

At least 10 of the participants were detained during the January 5 confrontations, including Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front, and Mikhail Shneyder of the Solidarity movement.

Shneyder told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the detainees were all released but must appear in court on January 6.

Udaltsov was reportedly detained while holding a sign during a single picket, when no more than one individual at a time participates in order to avoid frequently invoked laws on unauthorized rallies. He accused nearby "provocateurs" of lifting signs while he was speaking in an effort to give police grounds to detain him, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

The individuals who raised their own signs were from a group called "Young Russia."

There were allegations by opposition members of provocateurs involved in other detentions as well.

Konstantin Kosyakin, Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin, and Eduard Limonov were detained during opposition rallies in Moscow on December 31 and subsequently sentenced to between five days and two weeks of administrative arrest for refusing to follow police orders.

The pickets were not the first demonstration against the earlier opposition arrests. On January 4, police briefly detained 35 protest participants.

compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports

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