Kazakh president says poverty in post-Soviet countries led to leaders' downfall

Kazakhstan's authoritarian president said Thursday that several leaders of former Soviet republics had been toppled recently by popular uprisings because of economic hardships under their rule, and suggested he wouldn't meet the same fate.

"We perfectly understand the underlying reasons behind those events," President Nursultan Nazarbayev said, referring to popular protests that felled leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past 18 months.

"Poverty and unemployment due to the lack of a development strategy and concrete results of economic reforms are a good breeding ground for public discontent with authorities," Nazarbayev said, addressing the annual international Eurasian Media Forum in the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty.

Nazarbayev claimed that Kazakhstan has created "a free and open society" by allowing political and economic freedoms.

He is credited with leading the country's post-Soviet market reforms. However, much of the Central Asian nation's economic achievement is seen as a result of generous foreign investment in its vast energy sector.

Nazarbayev pledged to raise per capita income to US$9,000 (Ђ6,870) by 2015 from about US$3,000 expected this year - one of the highest among the ex-Soviet republics.

He said his government would continue political liberalization by improving state management, introducing local self-government, reforming the judicial system and developing civil society and media.

Nazarbayev's current presidential term ends in January 2006, and he plans to run for another seven-year term. A former Communist boss who is accused of corruption, stifling opposition and free media, he has never been elected in a free election.

The opposition intends to field a single candidate against Nazarbayev, and has vowed to take people to the streets if the election isn't fair.

No election date has been set.

BAGILA BUKHARBAYEVA, Associated Press Writer

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