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Kazakhstan's Nazarbaev Says Will Seek New Term

Nursultan Nazarbaev has run the oil-rich Central Asian state since 1989, when he headed the Communist Party in what was then a Soviet republic.

ASTANA -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev says he will run for reelection in a snap poll set for April 26.

Nazarbaev, already in power for more than 25 years, made the announcement on March 11 after delegates at a congress of his ruling Nur Otan party voted to nominate him as its candidate.

"I will agree with your initiative to nominate me for the presidency only because I want to propose new and very important goals for our country," Nazarbaev said.

"Only those who have concrete goals to improve their nation's life must take part in the presidential poll," Nazarbaev said in televised comments.

A 74-year-old former steelworker, Nazarbaev has run the oil-rich Central Asian state since 1989, when he headed the Communist Party in what was then a Soviet republic.

Nazarbaev has clamped down on dissent and Kazakhstan has never held an election judged to be free or fair by the West.

Right after attending Nur Otan's congress on March 11, Nazarbaev visited the Central Election Commission and passed the Kazakh-language test, a requirement for presidential contender.

"We have found Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbaev fluent in the state language," Myrzatai Zholdasbekov, chairman of the linguistics commission, told reporters after the test.

Several other potential candidates failed the Kazakh-language exam in recent days, which blocked them from participation in the poll.

This requirement, along with the condition that a presidential hopeful must be born on the territory of Kazakhstan was introduced in the 1990s.

Nazarbaev's critics said then that the requirements had been introduced to exclude some potential presidential contenders, who were born in the former Soviet Union's republics bordering in Kazakhstan and were not proficient in the Kazakh language.

Two other candidates have officially passed the language test in recent days, but government critics contend that their purpose is to create a veneer of democracy in a vote Nazarbaev is certain to win.

As in past elections, Nazarbaev cast his decision to run as a response to the will of the people, an idea rejected by his critics.

Nazarbaev had said on March 6 that it may be "time to change the scenery," leaving it unclear at the time whether he would seek another five-year term.

The next presidential election had been scheduled for 2016 but an assembly chaired by Nazarbaev proposed last month that it be held earlier, saying the needs another term to steer Kazakhstan through an economic crisis "caused by external factors."

Parliament, in which Nur Otan holds a large majority of the seats, confirmed the change several days later.

Analysts say Nazarbaev is eager to start a new term soon because of concerns that economic troubles stemming from lower world oil prices and Western sanctions against trade partner Russia could undermine his popular support.

Addressing the party congress, Nazarbaev urged businessmen with holdings abroad to bring their money back to Kazakhstan, saying that he personally "guarantees a peaceful life" to those who "legalize their shadow capital."

In June, Nazarbaev signed a law protecting Kazakhs who repatriate their money from prosecution.

"You all see it's not possible to hide anything abroad anymore," Nazarbaev told the party congress, citing a leaked global list of account holders in international giant HSBC's Swiss private banking arm and their balances for a certain period.

"There is no homeland there for us; nobody is waiting for us there. Everything is here," Nazarbaev said.

With reporting by BBC, Reuters, and TASS
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