Kazakhstan's President Calls Foreign Missionaries a Threat

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev criticized foreign missionaries on Thursday as a threat to national stability and urged lawmakers to curb their activities.

The mainly Muslim country has positioned itself as an area of stability in the potentially volatile Central Asian region. But some rights groups have criticized its treatment of small groups such as Hare Krishna.

Speaking at a congress of the Nur-Otan party, which holds all seats in the lower house of the parliament, Nazarbayev said foreign missionaries posed a threat to secularity.

"We are a secular state where religion is separated from the state, but this does not mean Kazakhstan should become a dumping ground for all kinds of religious movements," he said the veteran leader, without naming any groups.

"There are tens of thousands of missionary organizations working in Kazakhstan today. We don't know what their aims are. ... We cannot leave it like that and let them do something that our country does not need," he said.

Nazarbayev often singles out ethnic and religious accord as one of his main achievements in the country, which has a large Orthodox Christian community.

But Western human rights groups say religious intolerance toward smaller groups is on the rise.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Kazakhstan last year for destroying houses belonging to followers of Hare Krishna, who practice yoga and vegetarianism in a village near Almaty.