01/08/2010, 00.00
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Kazakhstan launches into intense diplomatic activity as it begins its stint at the helm of OCSE

The former Soviet republic took over the OCSE presidency on 1 January. Human rights groups criticise the decision because the Central Asian nation does not adequately respect human rights and religious freedom. For its part, Astana wants to focus on former Soviet republics and economic issues.
Astana (AsiaNews/F18) – Kazakhstan assumed the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) as of 1 January. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev is set to visit and meet officials from the organisation's 56 member states to discuss matters of interest. However, he will also have to deal with critics who accuse Astana of not respecting human rights and religious freedom and want the OCSE to monitor the situation in the Central Asian nation.

Kazakhstan is the first former Soviet republic, and the first Muslim country, ever to take on this task. However, in the months and weeks before it assumed the post, numerous Western specialists and human rights organisations argued that Kazakhstan was unqualified because of its authoritarian leadership and bad track record on human rights, which contradict OCSE principles, like respect for democracy and human rights in members states.

In recent weeks, the Forum 18 agency has reported that people practicing their faith without government authorisation continue to be harassed, fined and threatened.

The authorities also continue to close Christian-run rehabilitation centres for people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Administrators have often been brought before the courts, people like Sergei Mironov, a Protestant Christian, who set a rehab centre for people drug addicts and alcoholics.

Kazakh Ambassador to the OCSE, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, played up instead OCSE's military and political aspects, stressing the organisation's  role in solving economic and environmental problems.

He also insisted that his country was well placed to intervene in the frequent conflicts between former Soviet republics, which are frequent in the Caucasus, like the border dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Given such goals, Astana is especially keen on focusing on economic issues. Between January and May, Kazakhstan will host in two stages the Annual Environmental and Economic Forum.

For that event, Kazakhstan has proposed promoting good governance at border crossings, improving security of land transportation, and facilitation of international transport by road and rail in the OSCE region.

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