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Controversial Citizenship Bill Advances In Kazakh Parliament

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

ASTANA -- Kazakh lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a controversial bill that would enable the authorities to strip "terrorists" of their citizenship.

The bill, passed by parliament in an initial vote on May 24, will become law if it is approved in two more votes and signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Under the bill, Kazakhs could be stripped of citizenship if they are convicted of organizing or joining terrorist groups, posing a threat to the Central Asian country's "vitally important interests," or plotting to kill the president, among other offenses.

Critics say the legislation might be used against many opposition politicians, some of whom have been living in self-imposed exile abroad, as the definition of "vitally important interests of Kazakhstan" is very vague.

Justice Minister Marat Bekentaev told lawmakers on May 24 that the bill has "nothing to do with politics" and "will not be turned into a political tool."

Nazarbaev, 76, has been in power since 1989, two years before Kazakhstan gained independence in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

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