U.S. official: Kazakhstan should investigate charges of fraud in its presidential election

Kazakhstan should investigate charges of fraud in its presidential election and address and repair any shortcomings in the electoral process, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday. Matthew J. Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, described Sunday's vote "as a step forward but not as far as we had hoped".

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Wednesday was officially declared the winner with 91 percent of the vote, while the opposition declared the vote was manipulated. Bryza said that while there were shortcomings, the election was among the most open in central Asia. Results were published on the Internet within 24 hours and there were voter lists that could be checked by the public for accuracy, he said. "No one can dispute the will of the voters. Nazarbayev is the legitimately elected president of Kazakhstan," Bryza said.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, he said that during the campaign opposition figures were harassed, print runs of newspapers were confiscated and some demonstrators were beaten. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, which had 1,600 observers monitoring the vote, noted pressure on voters and serious violating in counting totals.

Kazakhstan, which borders both Russia and China, has vast oil and gas reserves that are a potential alternative to Middle East petroleum and its stability matters greatly to the West. Over the past five years, Kazakstan's economy has grown 9 percent a year, improving living standards to almost the level of east European countries.

Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institute described Nazerbayev as the most successful post-Soviet leader in central Asia but warned there was a risk of stagnation as he entered his third seven-year term, reported AP. P.T.

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