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Three parties win entry to Kazakh parliament

Published: 17/01/2012 06:12:01 PM GMT
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The ruling party of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was declared the landslide winner on Monday 16 Jan in which two nominally-opposition groups won parliament seats for the first time.Nur Otan, the ruling party of the long serving leader won a landslide victory, as expected, with 81 percent of the vote in Sunday's election. Two other parties, broadly sympathetic to the government, got over the 7 percent threshold to enter parliament.By finishing second, the pro-business Ak Zhol party would have won seats regardless of whether it cleared the threshold after changes to the electoral law guaranteed the end of the one-party chamber.Ak Zhol polled 7.5 percent and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan 7.2 percent. Turnout among the 9.3 million registered voters was 75 percent, the Central Election Commission said.Sign of National UnityNazarbayev, 71, hailed his party's victory as a sign of national unity one month after protests by sacked oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen erupted into clashes that killed at least 16 people on Kazakhstan's Independence Day. "Someone or other wanted to turn this to their advantage, to use the Zhanaozen events for political gain," "Residents of Zhanaozen gave their answer: nearly 70 percent voted for Nur Otan," Nazarbayev said to rapturous applause at a victory rally in a sports centre attended by thousands of party members.Nazarbayev had overruled a decision by the constitutional council to cancel the election in Zhanaozen, part of a public show of support for the oil workers after the riots. He also fired several high-ranking officials, including his son-in-law.Critical opponents barredThe decision to allow parties other than Nur Otan into parliament appears designed to create a veneer of democracy and ease frustration over the unequal distribution of oil riches in the former Soviet republic ruled by Nazarbayev since 1989."The gap between rich and poor is too big. We shouldn't have splendor and squalor side-by-side," said Valentina, a pensioner in Kazakhstan's commercial capital and largest city Almaty, where voter turnout of 41 percent was the lowest in the country.Kazakhstan's leaders are wary after mass protests greeted a disputed election last month in Russia, still the country's biggest trading partner and a cultural reference point for its millions of Russian-speaking citizens.Despite official claims of a transparent election, critics of Nazarbayev have cried foul after being excluded from the vote. Politician Bolat Abilov said his All-National Social Democratic Party was the only true opposition party represented.Kazakhstan, four times the size of Texas, holds 3 percent of global oil reserves and has attracted more than $120 billion in foreign investment in two decades of independence. It boasts per capita GDP on a par with that of Turkey or Mexico.Nazarbayev has said the nearly $75 billion accumulated in foreign currency reserves and a National Fund for windfall oil revenues may be needed to fend off a looming economic crisis.Largest Mosque in Central Asia Catches FireA fire has swept through the largest mosque in Kazakhstan's capitol on Sunday 15 Jan and at least one person is known to have been killed. Laborers at the site of the 17,500 square-meter (188,000 square-foot) Khazret Sultan mosque, which was still under construction, said they heard screams from a man trapped inside the building. Local news websites reported that 30 vehicles and 170 firemen were called in to tackle the fire. The Associated Press news agency, which described the mosque as the largest in Central Asia, quoted Emergency Ministry officials as saying that welding equipment used by workmen might have started the fire by igniting the scaffolding installed beneath the central dome. The Emergencies Ministries also confirmed that one person had been killed in the fire. The mosque was only opened in September. Its main hall can hold roughly 5,000 worshippers.Islam in KazakhstanIslam is the largest religion practiced in Kazakhstan, as 70% of the country's population is Muslim according to a 2009 national census. Ethnic Kazakhs are predominantly Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi School. From its Geography, Kazakhstan is the northernmost Muslim-majority country in the world. Kazakhs make up over half of the total population, and other ethnic groups of Muslim background include Uzbeks, Uyghurs and Tatars. Islam first arrived to the southern edges of the region in the 8th century from Arabs