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US envoy accused of near crash with Kazakh leader

Written by: Staff

ALMATY, Apr 25 (Reuters) US officials said today one of their diplomats accidentally steered between vehicles in Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's motorcade, but a Russian media report said he nearly crashed into the president's car.

''The president's security guards did not shoot to kill only because the Jeep had diplomatic plates,'' Tass news agency reported, without giving a source. ''(The Jeep) nearly crashed into the limousine of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.'' The U.S. embassy said in a statement the unnamed diplomat entered the motorcade when he drove out of the car park of his apartment building in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty on Sunday.

The statement said police pulled the diplomat over, verified his diplomatic status and driving licence. ''There was a misunderstanding when (he) tried to pull away before police had finished questioning him,'' it said, without elaborating.

Nazarbayev has been in power in the vast former Soviet republic, stretching from the Caspian Sea to China and bigger than Western Europe, since 1989.

Western leaders usually praise Nazarbayev for reforms and political stability, ignoring a patchy democratic record and authoritarian streak. The opposition accuses the West of putting Kazakhstan's oil before democracy.

Kazakhstan has reformed its economy and is set to become one of the world's top 10 oil producers in the next decade.

Reuters CH VP1951

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