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Controversial Kazakhstan Referendum Moves Forward

Parliamentary members walk past a poster of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev' after his annual state of the nation address, Astana, 2008 (FILE).

Backers of a controversial referendum in Kazakhstan to extend President Nursultan Nazarbayev's rule until the year 2020 say a majority of voters support the idea.

If the proposal is approved in a referendum, next year's planned presidential election will not take place.

Supporters of the proposal say they collected more than five million signatures from Kazakh voters who say they want Mr. Nazarbayev to extend his rule into third decade. There are about nine million registered voters in Kazakhstan.

Mr. Nazarbayev, who has been the country's leader since 1989, rejected the referendum plan earlier this month, saying he planned to contest the 2012 election. He is not expected to face any serious challengers.

The U.S. Embassy in Astana issued a statement welcoming the president's decision to reject the referendum and urged others to avoid steps that would violate Kazakhstan's constitution.