Astana/London, May 13 (ANI): Kazakhstan has declared its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, "Leader of the Nation", granting him immunity from any prosecution, just weeks before it is due to chair a major international conference on democracy and human rights.
According to The Telegraph, the bill, adopted by deputies in Kazakhstan's lower house, grants Nazarbayev the title for life, and protects him, his family, and their property, from civic or criminal prosecution.
Nazarbayev, who turns 70 later this year, has ruled the vast, mineral-rich Central Asian nation since 1990, guiding it into independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and turning it into the most economically successful of the neighboring republics.
But long-standing criticism of the country's record on democracy and human rights has come to a head this year, as it takes the Chair of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - a 56-nation grouping which cites promoting democracy as one of its key aims.
"We have expressed our concerns about the chairmanship from the very beginning," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"Kazakhstan not a country that adheres to human rights standards: he country has huge problems in freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and many other things," Berg added.
The bill, approved on Wednesday, has also fuelled speculation that Nazarbayev may be preparing to step down when his present term ends in 2012.
The bill, which will amend the constitution, still needs the approval of the upper house before it becomes statute.
Nazarbayev has yet to anoint a successor, although speculation has focused on Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest and most political of his three daughters, and Timur Askarovich Kulibayev, husband of his middle daughter Dinara. (ANI)