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Kazakh Opposition Urges PM To Quit Over Crisis

Kazakh Prime Minister Masimov
ALMATY (Reuters) -- Kazakhstan's opposition has urged the prime minister to resign and accused the government of failing to get a grip on a deepening financial crisis.

Adding political undertones to a crisis that has crippled Kazakhstan's economic growth, the opposition accused Prime Minister Karim Masimov of keeping the public in the dark over how the government plans to spend its $21 billion aid package.

"The proposed measures do not contain any real answers to the economic crisis and will not guard millions of Kazakhs against the persistent deterioration of their standard of living," the opposition Azat Party said.

"[Masimov] is unable to come up with adequate measures to counter the crisis," said Azat, which means "free" in Kazakh. "We demand the resignation of Prime Minister Masimov."

It said the state package, aimed at boosting bank liquidity and funding key industrial projects, came too late and lacked transparency, adding that the real state of the banking sector was "a mystery to society."

Thanks to windfall oil revenues, Kazakhstan has grown into Central Asia's biggest economy in recent years, boasting growth of about 10 percent a year between 2000 and 2007. The government now sees next year's growth at 1-3 percent.

The trend is a concern to President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- who, while being criticized in the West for tolerating no dissent, has been popular at home because people's incomes are rising.

His government has defended its anticrisis measures, saying they were enough to maintain healthy growth and avert trouble.

Although there are no outward signs of growing public discontent, the opposition, long lethargic and fragmented, has sought to use the crisis to step up criticism of his rule.

It says economic recovery is impossible without political reform in the former Soviet country.

"[We] believe it is necessary to bring about far-ranging modernization of the economy and that is impossible without real political change in the country," Azat said.