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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Applauds Kazakh Amendments

WASHINGTON -- The United States is calling amendments to the Kazakh Constitution a move in the right direction even though President Nursultan Nazarbayev is now allowed to remain in office for life.

"It's a step -- ultimately, when you look at the balance of these things -- in the right direction," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said when asked to comment on the reforms Tuesday.

McCormack pointed to many other political reforms in the amendments, which include increasing the number of parliamentary deputies and letting the parliament play a bigger role in picking the prime minister.

But Tom Malinowski, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, called the amendments a "major step backward" for rule of law and democracy in Kazakhstan.

When pressed, McCormack conceded the political reforms were not "exactly what we would have hoped," but added: "They are going to have to deal with these issues on their own terms. We're not going to impose it on them."

Martha Brill Olcott, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the U.S. response was pragmatic and aimed at encouraging its ally to more forward with reforms.

In Almaty, the Kazakh opposition accused Washington of double standards.

"It's absurd and hypocritical when Bush lectures [President Vladimir] Putin on democracy at a time when in this neighboring country ... such an usurpation of power is under way," opposition politician Tulegen Zhukeyev said at a news conference.