Kazakhstan Hires Former British PM Blair as Consultant

Posted October 24th, 2011 at 2:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Kazakhstan has announced it has hired former British prime minister Tony Blair as a consultant to attract new investment to the Central Asian nation.

Kazakhstan made the formal announcement Monday, saying Mr. Blair has set up an advisory group to help President Nursultan Nazarbayev's regime implement economic reforms.

Mr. Blair will reportedly be paid millions of dollars for his consultancy, which is also 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 the prime minister.

Mr. Blair's office confirmed that the former prime minister will be advising the Kazakhs but declined to explain the nature of the deal.

Kazakhstan remains an authoritarian regime with effective one-party rule and an all-powerful presidency. Mr. Nazarbayev has ruled the country since it gained its independence in 1991. He received 95 percent of the vote in elections last April.

Critics say the country pays little attention to Western democratic standards.

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. Some 70 percent of Kazakhstan's population of 16.5 million is Muslim.

The U.S.-based watchdog group Freedom House called the provisions of the law “troubling,” saying they grossly curb Kazakh citizens' right to freely practice and express their faith.

In addition, Kazakhstan blocked access to a number of foreign Internet sites, alleging they contributed to terrorism and religious extremism.