Country profile: Kazakhstan(bbcnews)

Country profile: Kazakhstan

Map of Kazakhstan

A huge country covering a territory equivalent to the whole of Western Europe, Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources and enormous economic potential.

The varied landscape stretches from the mountainous, heavily populated regions of the east to the sparsely populated, energy-rich lowlands in the west, and from the industrialised north, with its Siberian climate and terrain, through the arid, empty steppes of the centre, to the fertile south.

Overview

Ethnically, the country is as diverse, with the Kazakhs making up over half the population, the Russians comprising just over a quarter, and smaller minorities of Ukrainians, Germans, Chechens, Kurds, Koreans and Central Asian ethnic groups accounting for the rest.

These groups generally live in harmony, though ethnic Russians resent the lack of dual citizenship and having to pass a Kazakh language test in order to work for government or state bodies.

Astana, Kazakh capital

Astana: Oil money is driving the new capital’s development

Since independence, there has been major foreign investment in the Caspian oil sector. Oil development has brought rapid economic growth.

An oil pipeline linking the Tengiz oil field in western Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk opened in 2001. There are plans to escalate oil exports by linking Kazakh resources to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which began operating in summer 2005. A pipeline to China was opened in late 2005 and other routes are also being explored.

Nevertheless, poverty is still widespread and Kazakhstan continues to face major economic challenges, particularly with unemployment and inflation. At the same time, an elite group of people have grown very rich since independence through privatization and other business deals which opposition figures allege to have been corrupt.

The people of Kazakhstan also have to live with the aftermath of Soviet-era nuclear testing and toxic waste dumping and with increasing drug addiction and a growing incidence of HIV/Aids. Inefficient irrigation projects have led to severe shrinkage of the heavily polluted Aral Sea.

Facts

  • Full name: Republic of Kazakhstan
  • Population: 15.4 million (UN, 2007)
  • Capital: Astana
  • Largest city: Almaty
  • Area: 2.7 million sq km (1 million sq miles)
  • Major languages: Kazakh, Russian
  • Major religions: Islam, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Kazakh tenge = 100 tiyn
  • Main exports: Oil, uranium, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery, chemicals, grain, wool, meat, coal
  • GNI per capita: US $2,930 (World Bank, 2006)
  • Internet domain: .kz
  • International dialling code: +7

Leaders

President: Nursultan Abish-uly Nazarbayev

Elections in December 2005 returned Nursultan Nazarbayev for a further seven-year term with more than 90% of the votes.

The opposition protested that the ballot had been rigged and OSCE observers declared it to have been seriously flawed.

Kazakh president

President Nazarbayev: At the helm during reform years

Mr Nazarbayev said the election had been fair and showed that people wanted evolution, not revolution.

Born in 1940, Mr Nazarbayev came to power in 1989 as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and was elected president the following year. He was re-elected after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

His supporters say he preserved inter-ethnic accord and stability during the reform years.

Mr Nazarbayev has concentrated extensive powers in his own hands and is accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent. Although he says he advocates democracy as a long-term goal, he warns that stability could be at risk if change is too swift.

A referendum in 1995 extended his term of office and in 1999 he was again elected president in elections from which his main rival was barred from standing on a technicality.

Parliament voted in 2007 to allow him to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms. When he does step down, he will have a permanent seat on the defence council and a role as head of the people’s assembly, which unites members from different ethnic groups.

The president merged his Otan party with his daughter Dariga’s party, Asar, in July 2006. The move created a vast ruling coalition and was seen as consolidating the president’s power. Otan was subsequently renamed Nur-Otan in honour of Mr Nazarbayev.

Media

Press freedom is enshrined in Kazakhstan’s constitution, but press freedom monitors say the privately-owned and opposition media are subject to harassment and censorship.

In its 2007 report, media rights body Reporters Without Borders said pressure on the media included prosecutions for « defaming » the president, the closure of opposition newspapers and physical attacks on journalists.

Insulting the president and officials is a criminal offence; the private life, health and financial affairs of the president are classified as state secrets.

The government controls the printing presses and most radio and TV transmission facilities. It operates the country’s national radio and TV networks.

The president’s close associates, including his eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, and son-in-law, have benefitted from the privatisation of the former state media. Dariga heads the influential Khabar Agency which runs several TV channels.

The couple also controls the radio stations Europa Plus, Russkoye Radio, Hit FM and Radio Karavan, along with the newspapers Karavan and Novoye Pokolenie.

The press

  • Kazakhstanskaya Pravda – government-backed, Russian-langauge
  • Yegemen Qazaqstan – government-backed, Kazakh-language
  • Ekspress-K – private, Russian-language
  • Zhas Alash – private, Kazakh-language
  • Liter – private, daily
  • Vremya – private, opposition weekly
  • Nachnem s ponedelnika – private, Russian-language opposition weekly
  • Karavan – private, weekly

Television

  • Khabar TV – operated by Khabar agency
  • Kazakh TV (first channel) – state-owned, in Kazakh and Russian
  • Kazakh Commercial TV (KTK) – private, in Kazakh and Russian
  • Channel 31 TV – private, Almaty
  • Caspionet – satellite channel operated by Khabar agency, in Russian, Kazakh and English
  • Eurasia TV – state-run, rebroadcasts of Russia’s Channel One

Radio

  • Kazakh Radio – state-owned, broadcasts in Kazakh and Russian
  • Europa Plus – private, Almaty, Astana
  • Khabar Hit FM – private, Almaty
  • Russkoye Radio-Aziya – private, Almaty, Astana

News agencies

  • Kazinform – state-owned; English-language pages
  • Interfax Kazakhstan – a service of Russian news agency Interfax; English-language pages

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