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Kazakh President Set To Become 'Leader Of The Nation'

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev
Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament has approved a bill that would grant President Nursultan Nazarbaev the status of "leader of the nation" and ensure him and his family immunity from prosecution.

Nazarbaev 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, as the country's first head of state.

Nazarbaev, whose administration keeps a tight grip on the levers of power and public discourse, is accused by critics of seeking to be president for life.

Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament today voted unanimously to give him the status of "leader of the nation." The bill still requires upper house approval.

Kazakhstan was granted the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this year despite howls from pro-democracy groups and rights advocates.

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports