- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Kazakhs’ invitation

Kazakhstan is eager to change its reputation for election fraud and corruption by encouraging foreign observers to visit the former Soviet republic, a top Kazakh official said this week.

“We are here to invite all potential observers” to monitor the presidential election in 2008, Karim Massimov told editors and reporters at The Washington Times this week.

Mr. Massimov, a top aide to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, said his Central Asian nation is determined to demonstrate its commitment to democracy.

“We want to create an example of how a former Soviet Union multiethnic, multireligious country could become an example of a free … democracy,” he said.

That is an ambitious goal for a country regularly criticized by foreign election observers. The State Department’s latest human rights report said the 1999 presidential election and the 2004 parliamentary elections “fell far short of international standards.”

“The government’s human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous abuses. The government severely limited citizens’ right to change their government and democratic institutions remained weak,” the report said.

The report faulted the Kazakh press for reporting that favored Mr. Nazarbayev’s Otan political party and his daughter Dariga’s pro-presidential Asar party. Foreign observers also complained about voting fraud.

Mr. Massimov also said Kazakhstan is making strong economic progress and has created a religiously tolerant society in a region known for religious extremism.

“We think our economic fundamentals are much stronger than any neighboring country and our personal income is higher,” he said. “The creation of a middle class is of crucial importance as the base for sustainable development.”

The economy grew by 9.3 percent last year, while inflation was held to 6.7 percent. Unemployment in the oil-rich nation of 15 million people was 8 percent last year, and 16 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

Mr. Massimov said Kazakhstan, officially a secular state, is mostly free of religious extremism, and the State Department recognized that the government “generally” respected religious freedom.

“We don’t have strong religious extremism. We don’t have a base for that,” he said. “Our laws are so liberal that some leaders of neighboring countries have raised concerns that we are too liberal.”

U.N. management

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday announced the appointment of a former Republican Party fundraiser as his new undersecretary-general for management.

Christopher Burnham has served for the past three years as assistant secretary of state for resource management and as the department’s chief financial officer. President Bush appointed him to that position.

Mr. Burnham’s new duties will include responsibilities for the United Nations’ budgets, security and personnel. Before joining the Bush administration, Mr. Burnham served as treasurer of Connecticut and as an investment banker.

Selling Saudi Arabia

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz is encouraging U.S. business executives to “take advantage” of new opportunities to invest in his country.

A Saudi trade mission today will conclude a coast-to-coast tour promoting $623 billion in investment opportunities through 2020 in the electrical, water, telecommunications, gas and oil industries, he said. The Saudi officials, who began their trip in New York on May 9, will hold their final business forum in San Francisco.

“Saudi Arabia is at the crossroads of commerce in the Middle East and is home to a vibrant and growing economy, sustained both by its vast oil reserves and by its ever-growing private sector,” Prince Bandar said.

“These forums are a way to promote strong economic ties between our countries to accompany the strong political ties that link Saudi Arabia and the U.S.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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