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U.S. Rights Group Slams Kazakhstan Over Democracy

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
Kazakhstan's failure to make sufficient progress towards democracy risks undermining Europe's main human rights watchdog when the country takes over its chairmanship in 2010, a U.S. rights group says.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, courted by the West as an alternative energy supplier, was chosen last year to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), despite criticism of its often patchy human rights record.

Freedom House, in a report published late on Tuesday, said the ex-Soviet nation had fallen short of its OSCE commitments.

"The OSCE is a critical player in efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union," Jeffrey Goldstein, Freedom House senior program manager for Central Asia, said in a statement. "Kazakhstan's poor performance threatens to undermine the OSCE's reputation and effectiveness, even as the region faces new threats from a resurgent Russia."

Credited at home for economic growth and rising incomes, President Nursultan Nazarbaev is accused by Western rights groups of tolerating no political dissent.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin was in Washington this week to discuss Kazakhstan's progress, as well as ways to deepen energy cooperation. U.S. oil companies have invested billions of dollars in Kazakh Caspian oil fields.

(by Reuters)