Hero worship of Kazakhstan leader hits new height

Updated 01 December 2012
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Hero worship of Kazakhstan leader hits new height

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan yesterday observed a new holiday lauding President Nursultan Nazarbayev, part of a growing cult of personality around the leader of the sprawling, resource-rich former Soviet republic.
The highlight of First President’s Day, which marks the anniversary of Nazarbayev’s first election in 1991, was a carefully choreographed pageant by some 30,000 performers in an arena in the capital Astana, including mass singing and banner-waving.
Across the country, schoolchildren and state employees held demonstrations of affection, concerts, and sports events in his honor. To what extent the participation was voluntary was unclear.
The 72-year-old Nazarbayev exercises extraordinary dominion over Kazakhstan’s political life. In the most recent presidential election in 2010, he pushed aside three token rivals to win 95 percent of the vote; international monitors criticized the election as unfair.
He receives blanket, praiseful coverage from state news media, while the government has cracked down on independent outlets.
In the run-up to the holiday, state media lauded him as a visionary who prevented the ethnically diverse country from plunging into bloodshed like that in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and equated him with the United States’ founding fathers.
Nazarbayev has become subject of films, plays and even children’s fairytales. A university, a network of elite schools, and a city park adorned with his statue have been named after him. An imprint of his hand is incorporated into the design of the nation’s banknotes.
Observers say this is partly old-style cult of personality, but also an attempt to cement a unifying element in a vast and sparsely populated, multiethnic country of 16.5 million that some fear could one day be torn apart by clan rivalries and regional loyalties.
“Kazakhstan’s statehood still lacks a symbol uniting all of its citizens,” said Marat Shibutov, a well-known political commentator. “That is why this holiday has appeared.” All across the country, billboards bear Nazarbayev slogans identifying national strength in ethnic unity. Russian-speaking ethnic Slavs make up around one-fourth of the population, and there are also substantial German, Tatar, Uyghur, and Turkish communities, among a dizzying array of ethnic groups.
The development of Kazakh nationalism has been fervently resisted by Nazarbayev, although tight controls over the media make it difficult to assess the strength of underlying social tensions. Occasional violent outbursts of local village disputes that play out along ethnic lines offers only a hint of what some see as a grave danger in waiting.
Making Nazarbayev an inescapable part of public life is a task that has been undertaken with gusto by government media. One Twitter user noted that the news on Khabar state television Wednesday evening mentioned Nazarbayev’s name on 26 occasions and the word “president” 40 times.


In 2010, the ever eager-to-please parliament bestowed upon the president the title of Elbasy — “leader of the nation.” The position gives him the power to approve important policies after he retires and grants him lifetime immunity from prosecution for acts committed during his rule.
In the run-up to Saturday’s holiday in Kazakhstan, a day of lectures was held in the capital, Astana, at Nazarbayev University to celebrate the leader’s much-trumpeted legacy, including his decision to get rid of the nuclear weapons arsenal that Kazakhstan inherited in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, a senior United Nations official and Kazakhstan’s former foreign minister, said Nazarbayev had resisted overtures from pariah states.
“In early 1992, the foreign ministry received a letter addressed to Kazakhstan’s president from Libyan revolutionary leader Qaddafi proposing to hold onto the nuclear arsenal,” Tokayev said. “Billions in assistance were offered in return.” Instead, Kazakhstan drew on substantial US assistance to dispense with its nuclear stockpile, earning widespread plaudits. But international criticism also is strong.
US-based advocacy group Freedom House has designated Kazakhstan as not free and noted a worsening trend last year with legislation that in effect limited religious liberties.
The past week alone has seen a new crackdown on opposition parties and independent newspapers critical of the president as authorities seek the courts’ approval in having them ruled extremist.
Vladimir Kozlov, the country’s most vocal opposition politician, was sentenced in October to 7 1/2 years for allegedly stirring unrest and seeking the government’s overthrow in a trial that international legal experts declared prejudiced and politically motivated.
There is no obvious sign of when or even if the president will ever step down — Nazarbayev University’s Life Sciences Center announced last month that they had devised a yogurt-type concoction that could extend life expectancy. Nazarbayev has in the past, perhaps only half-joking, urged scientists to find him an elixir of youth.
And yet, even his supporters recognize change is beckoning.
In an interview published Saturday in Vremya newspaper, an adviser to the presidential rights committee, Vitaly Voronov, said the time had come to boost the role of parliament, which is now occupied by Nazarbayev’s party and two weak and largely pro-government forces.
Nazarbayev “should go down in history as the first and last leader of Kazakhstan with super-presidential powers,” he said.


Murder of teenage Indian maid sparks calls for tougher laws urgently

Updated 12 min 34 sec ago
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Murder of teenage Indian maid sparks calls for tougher laws urgently

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The murder of a teenage maid in India triggered calls on Monday for the government to urgently pass laws to curb trafficking and update legislation that lets children work as domestic help.
Police said the 16-year-old girl from eastern Jharkhand state was strangled and her body chopped up and dumped in a drain earlier this month after she demanded a year's unpaid salary from the employment agency that hired her.
A man, who worked at the agency that brings girls from poor families in rural areas to work in Delhi, was arrested late last week, senior Delhi police officer Rajender Singh Sagar told reporters.
"How can we allow our little daughters to be brutally killed after trafficking and exploitation? Where is the rule of law?" Indian Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi said on Twitter.
The case has put the spotlight on the abuse of domestic servants in India where millions of people, including children trafficked from remote and impoverished states, toil for long hours in homes with little freedom or protection.
Satyarthi urged the government to pass India's new anti-trafficking bill, that was cleared by cabinet in February but has not been tabled in parliament yet, and called for the enactment of another bill to regulate employment agencies.
With stringent punishment for traffickers and quick relief for victims, campaigners believe the anti-trafficking law will result in more arrests and convictions.
About 60 percent of the more than 23,000 trafficking victims rescued in India in 2016 were children, government data shows.
Campaigners have blamed the dilution of the country's child labour act for more children being trafficked for domestic work.
India's parliament approved a controversial law in 2016 allowing children to work for family businesses, despite widespread concern that it would push more of them into labor.
Anti-trafficking charity Shakti Vahini demanded a rollback of amendments in the law and quick enactment of legislation to monitor unregulated employment agencies to stop them withholding salaries from workers or using violence against them.
"It is getting worse after the law was amended," Ravi Kant, founder of Shakti Vahini, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"There is no fear of law under the current child labour act."