Kazakh president backs Cameron
David Cameron has been given the backing of Kazakhstan's ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who said he would vote for the Prime Minister.
President Nazarbayev, who has been labelled a dictator by critics, won 95% of the vote in Kazakhstan's most recent election. Asked what advice he could give to Mr Cameron ahead of the 2015 general election, the president said: "Personally I would vote for him."
The Prime Minister's trade mission to Kazakhstan has been overshadowed by controversy over the country's human rights record. At a joint press conference Mr Cameron said he had raised concerns about human rights with the Kazakh leader. But Mr Nazarbayev insisted the "key human rights" were secure in Kazakhstan and added: "Nobody has a right to instruct us how to live."
Deals worth £700 million were sealed by British businesses accompanying the Prime Minister on the visit and a new strategic partnership was signed by the two leaders.
Mr Cameron's visit, the first by a serving British prime minister, is aimed at helping the UK catch up with other Western countries in forging ties with the oil and mineral-rich central Asian state. The pair held talks on the presidential jet on Sunday night and visited the Irish Bar in Astana's Rixos hotel for a nightcap before holding further discussions at the Al Orda Palace on Monday.
Before Mr Cameron began his visit, campaign group Human Rights Watch claimed there was a "serious and deteriorating" situation in Kazakhstan "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".
At the joint press conference, the Prime Minister said: "In the relationship Britain has with Kazakhstan and the relationship I have with President Nazarbayev nothing is off the agenda. We talked about a full range of subjects and that includes subjects including human rights, issues that we discussed at some length last night. I discussed, for instance, the letter written by Human Rights Watch and the concerns in that letter. I think it is very important that we have a frank dialogue on all of these issues and that is the way it should be."
In response to questions from British reporters about the country's human rights record, Mr Nazarbayev said: "The journalist that just asked the question probably visits our country for the first time. So perhaps it is pretty normal when someone from your isles, maybe some people see this country as a 'Middle Ages' country, riding camels and horses, so maybe that's natural to have that kind of vision. But you have visited three countries - the three 'Stans: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan - and I hope you can compare the difference between those countries. As for the human rights issues, I believe that Kazakhstan secures the key human rights. We have free elections, we have free political parties in the parliament, we have the opposition. There are 3,000 media outlets including foreign ones." He insisted there was "no political oppression" and that the country's aim was for full democracy.
The Government hopes the business deals signed on this trip will be the start of a surge in trade, which could result in contracts worth £85 billion in Kazakhstan over the coming years. Mr Cameron, who signed a new agreement to strengthen links with Kazakhstan, said the country was "not just an emerging market" but "an emerging power". He said: "We have agreed to open a new chapter in our relationship. The strategic partnership agreement that we have just signed will take our relationship to a new level. A relationship based on strong economic ties, on closer co-operation on security and defence and on increasing links between our people."
The Prime Minister said he hoped an agreement with Kazakhstan to allow the British to bring equipment home from Afghanistan overland would be agreed "without delay" following the ratification of a deal allowing the use of air routes.