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Kazakh President Becomes 'Leader Of The Nation'

President Nursultan Nazarbaev
Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament has approved constitutional amendments granting President Nursultan Nazarbaev the status of "leader of the nation."

The move was seen as merely a formality after the lower house of parliament approved the bill on May 12.

The amendments give Nazarbaev the right to have final approval on all policy moves in the country concerning both domestic and foreign policy -- even if he leaves office.

They also give him lifetime immunity from investigation or prosecution.

Critics have questioned the need for the changes, saying they only guarantee Nazarbaev's personal safety.

Nazarbaev, 69, has ruled the Central Asian state since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, before which he was its top Communist Party official.

His current term expires in 2012, but in 2007 the parliament ruled that he should be able to stand for president as many times as he likes.

compiled from agency reports