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Group Wants Referendum To Keep Kazakh President On Until 2020

Opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov says President Nursultan Nazarbaev has decided to cling to power and shield associates from potential prosecution.
OSKEMEN, Kazakhstan -- A group in northeastern Kazakhstan says it is collecting signatures to hold a national referendum that would keep President Nursultan Nazarbaev in office until 2020.

Today's announcement came at a meeting in the city of Oskemen that brought together hundreds of academics, businessmen, writers, and political activists from around the country.

Nazarbaev's current term expires in 2012; one of his closest advisers, Yermukhamet Yertysbaev told journalists earlier this year that Nazarbaev plans to run for another term in elections due in 2012.

Two leading opposition politicians told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service the proposal to prolong Nazarbaev's term till 2020 without any elections indicated he was afraid of losing.

Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the nonregistered opposition Algha (Forward) party, and Zhasaral Quanyshalin, the chairman of the Long Live Liberty opposition group, have officially announced plans to run in the 2012 presidential election.

Kozlov told RFE/RL today that the proposal in fact represented a decision by Nazarbaev to cling to power and shield associates from potential prosecution.

Quanyshalin said that Nazarbaev must have understood that it would be very difficult for him to remain in power if the elections were held.

According to him, the Kazakh people are tired of having the same president for such a long time and therefore less than a half of the voters might support him if the elections are held in 2012.

Read more in Russian here