KAZAKH LEADER BROWBEATS NGOS AHEAD OF ELECTION
(Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, seeking re-election in December, threatened Western- funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with prosecution on Monday if they meddle in the election campaign.
Revolutions sparked by rigged elections have unseated rulers in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The Kazakh opposition has said a flawed presidential election on Dec. 4 could trigger a similar scenario.
But Kazakh authorities share a view widespread in some other ex-Soviet states that people's revolutions are masterminded abroad and financed through Western, mainly U.S.-funded NGOs. U.S. officials have denied these charges.
"They (NGOs) have no right whatsoever to finance political parties, especially during campaigning for the election," Nazarbayev told a forum of NGOs working in Kazakhstan.
Last month the Central Asian state's Constitutional Council ruled that two tough new laws on NGOs passed by parliament ran counter to the constitution.
Nazarbayev did not use his right of veto to overrule the council's verdict. But he made clear the authorities would not hesitate to prosecute any of country's NGOs if they were judged to be involved in funding revolution.
"We will not view these lawful actions by law-enforcement bodies as an encroachment on human rights and freedoms," he said. "The law is the same for everybody -- it's as simple as that."
Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko sacked his government amid political turmoil last week, which some commentators in other former Soviet republics interpreted as proof that revolutions lead only to chaos.
Nazarbayev, a 65-year-old former steelworker who has ruled since 1989, has repeatedly said that social stability based on inter-ethnic peace and bold economic reforms is the main achievement of his presidency.
Nazarbayev remains popular among the electorate, despite corruption scandals and attacks on the free press during his 16-year rule.
Compliant state media portray him as a charismatic but firm ruler leading the nation to prosperity while deftly avoiding the instability besetting the rest of the region.
Nazarbayev loyalists say he should win another seven-year term and there are no grounds for a Ukraine-style revolution because oil-rich Kazakhstan's 15 million people enjoy higher wages and faster-improving living standards than their Ukrainian counterparts.
But Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who will challenge Nazarbayev as the sole opposition candidate in the polls, said at the weekend the reality was not so rosy, with one in every four Kazakhs living below the poverty line. Tuyakbai, a 57-year-old former Nazarbayev loyalist, joined the opposition after a flawed parliamentary election last September.