PM makes historic Kazakhstan visit
Published 01/07/2013 | 00:00
David Cameron became the first serving prime minister to visit Kazakhstan as he began a visit to the mineral-rich country with hopes of boosting British trade.
But the Prime Minister confirmed he would raise allegations of human rights abuses when he holds talks with president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Discussions are set to focus on trade and using Kazakhstan as an exit route for British equipment as combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
Mr Cameron follows in the footsteps of former prime minister Tony Blair, who has played a key role in helping Kazakhstan's development since leaving office.
Kazakhstan's foreign minister Erlan Idrissov said: "We are very honoured and privileged to have such attention on the part of two prime ministers (towards) Kazakhstan - Tony Blair and David Cameron." He added that "we cherish and enjoy the support of developed countries" on the path to development.
But campaign group Human Rights Watch has condemned Mr Nazarbayev's regime. Mr Nazarbayev has been in power since the Soviet era and has led the country's economic transformation on the back of its mineral wealth, but has been labelled a dictator by critics.
An open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by Human Rights Watch's UK director David Mephan, said the group had been documenting human rights abuses in Kazakhstan for more than 15 years.
"We are very concerned about the serious and deteriorating human rights situation there in recent years, including credible allegations of torture, the imprisonment of government critics, tight controls over the media and freedom of expression and association, limits on religious freedom, and continuing violations of workers' rights," he added.
Amnesty International UK's head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said: "Kazakhstan might be knee-deep in oil and gas wealth but David Cameron shouldn't let lucrative energy deals prevent him from raising human rights during his trip."
The Prime Minister said the issue would be on the table during the talks. He said: "On human rights, in all the relationships we have, there's never anything off the table, we raise and discuss all these issues and that will be the case in Kazakhstan as well. I think it is important to make this visit and it's very much something I chose and wanted to do.
"Kazakhstan is one of the rising economic powers in the world. I think it's very important that British business, British investment and British firms get a proper chance in Kazakhstan, they're doing that, I want to help them to do that. Other European leaders have been and I think it's high time a British Prime Minister went."