ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) - The president of Kazakhstan said Friday he plans to introduce direct elections for town and village mayors in an effort to foster democratic standards in the authoritarian Central Asian nation.
In a wide-ranging address, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said more than 2,500 municipal heads _ about 90 percent of local governor posts _ would be elected starting from next year. No local governors are currently elected.
Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan would seek to pursue further democratization and strengthen the power of the parliament. He gave no indication that he plans to step aside.
Kazakhstan, a vast oil-rich nation of 17 million bordering China and Russia, has come under sustained criticism for limiting media freedoms and making slow progress in political reforms. The president insisted, however, that his country would not be rushed into reforms before the economic conditions were right.
"Every step of our political reforms is closely tied to our level of economic development," he said.
The bulk of Friday's speech was aimed at cataloging achievements in the ex-Soviet nation over the 72-year old leader's two decades in power and setting out the nation's strategy until 2050.
Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan has to date attracted $160 billion in foreign investment. Much of that has gone toward developing the country's abundant energy and mineral resources.
In what may prove a controversial announcement, Nazarbayev said the Latin alphabet would be adopted by 2025 in place of the Russian-style Cyrillic alphabet currently in use. By the same year, 95 percent of Kazakhstan's citizens should have learned to speak in Kazakh, he said.
Although Kazakh is the official state language, many people speak Russian instead.
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