Kazakh lower house of parliament approves amnesty affecting 14,000 people

The Kazakh lower house of parliament approved a bill Wednesday granting amnesty to about 14,000 legal offenders, including 6,000 serving prison sentences. The amnesty, if approved by the upper house and signed by the president, would apply to convicted minors, women and the elderly, the lower house's press office said.

The amnesty bill was proposed by the government in connection with the ex-Soviet republic's Independence Day, marked on Dec. 16, it said. The upper chamber has 60 days to consider the bill.

The Central Asian nation has a prison population of about 44,000, according to the prison administration. The previous amnesty was declared in 2002; it affected 14,000 inmates. The lower house, or Majlis, on Wednesday also approved a bill declaring the Islamic Eid al-Adha, celebrated at the end of the annual hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Russian Orthodox Christmas, celebrated Jan. 7, as public holidays, the press office said.

Muslims, mostly ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, make up about 47 percent of the population and Orthodox Christians, represented mainly by Russians, about 44 percent, reports the AP. I.L.

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