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Kazakh president decries foreign influences

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PETER LEONARD | April 25, 2012 02:10 PM EST | AP

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan — The president of the oil-rich former Soviet nation of Kazakhstan has criticized the West for what he said was its attempt to impose its values on the rest of the world.

Nursultan Nazarbayev told Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 in an interview aired Wednesday that the use of modern mass media to influence internal political developments in certain countries creates security risks.

Kazakhstan has since 1991 adopted a flexible diplomatic position, cultivating warm ties with the West as well as its former Soviet partners and China.

But Nazarbayev's remarks, which chime strongly with the position adopted by neighboring Russia, appear to signal discomfort with the democracy embraced by Western governments.

Authoritarian governments in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, have observed the overthrow of numerous regimes in the Middle East with palpable unease.

"The varying mentalities, histories and traditions of different peoples are not being taken into consideration," Nazarbayev told Rossiya-24. "Western culture, which is propagandized by the United States, cannot simply be transplanted."

Nazarbayev said economic development in countries gripped by revolutionary movements has been set back by 15 years. He also expressed concern that Islamist movements are on the ascendancy in countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

"What we are seeing are Islamic governments more inclined to Shariah (Islamic law), and that is what has been achieved through these revolutions and coups," he said.

Kazakhstan has routinely been criticized by international democracy groups and foreign governments, including the United States and the European Union, for falling short of commitments on human rights and democratic reforms.

Alga, the most vocal opposition political group in Kazakhstan, has recently become a target of increasingly aggressive government probes, prompting accusations that authorities are seeking to quash dissent.

Permission to hold anti-government rallies is routinely denied and unauthorized demonstrations regularly lead to arrests.

Nazarbayev insisted, however, that the use of social media by global political movements would not lead to a clampdown on the Internet in his country.

"We are not closing ourselves off, because this is progress and we have to go in that direction," he said.

However, entire blogs and critical websites are unavailable to Internet users in Kazakhstan.

Most people in Kazakhstan still rely on television and newspapers for their information, but those sources are often controlled by the state either directly or indirectly.