Kazakhstan Hires Former British PM Blair as Consultant

Posted October 24th, 2011 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Kazakhstan has hired former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a consultant to attract new investment to the Central Asian nation.

Kazakh officials Monday said Mr. Blair has set up an advisory group to help President Nursultan Nazarbayev implement economic reforms.

It has been reported that Mr. Blair will be paid millions of dollars for his services, which also are aimed at helping Kazakhstan present a better image to the West. Mr. Blair's former aide, Alastair Campbell, and his former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, will be working with him.

Mr. Blair's office confirmed the former prime minister will be advising the Kazakhs, but it gave no details.

Kazakhstan has an authoritarian government and an all-powerful presidency. Mr. Nazarbayev has ruled the country since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He was re-elected in April with 95 percent of the vote.

Critics say the country pays little attention to Western democratic standards. But many Kazakhs enjoy a higher standard of living than others in Central Asia because of the country's oil wealth.

Last month, the upper house of Kazakhstan's parliament approved tough new legislation on religious activity. The new law would ban prayer rooms in state institutions and would require existing minority religious organizations to dissolve and re-register with the government. About 70 percent of Kazakhstan's population is Muslim.

The U.S.-based watchdog group Freedom House calls the law “troubling,” saying it grossly curbs citizens' right to freely practice and express their faith. Kazakh authorities also have blocked access to a number of foreign Internet sites, alleging they contribute to terrorism and religious extremism.