ORAL, Kazakhstan -- A group of journalists has been detained in northwestern Kazakhstan while protesting a planned referendum to extend President Nursultan Nazarbaev's term by 10 years, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
Several of the estimated 20 people at the demonstration in the city of Oral (Uralsk in Russian) were detained by police. Similar protests were held in other Kazakh cities.
The Senate, the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, on January 6 endorsed a proposal by a so-called citizens initiative to hold such a referendum, which would allow Nazarbaev to stay in office until 2020. The Majlis, the lower chamber, endorsed the proposal on December 29. Nazarbaev's term is set to expire in 2012.
Meanwhile, Kazakh bloggers are checking how a reported 2.5 million signatures in support of the referendum were collected by the pro-presidential initiative group.
Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, the head of a nongovernmental organization that has launched a counter-petition against the holding of the referendum, told RFE/RL on January 6 that bloggers had uncovered "dozens" of violations that suggest people were coerced into signing the petition.
Toregozhina told RFE/RL some 400 people had electronically signed her appeal to Nazarbaev and parliament deputies to abandon plans for the referendum and instead hold "honest, free, and just elections."
The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, Richard Hoagland, said at a press conference in Astana on January 5 that holding the referendum would be a setback for democracy.
Hoagland said that in order for there to be a democracy, Kazakhs must have a choice of different ideas and different personalities.
"For people to have a democratic voice in their country, they should have a bigger choice than simply 'yes' or 'no,'" Hoagland said. "There should be a choice of different ideas and different personalities."
The 70-year-old Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years.
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