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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prodi to Visit Kazakhstan Next Month

ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi will visit Kazakhstan from Oct. 7 to Oct. 9, amid an escalating dispute between the country and an Italian-led consortium over the giant Kashagan oil field.

Prodi's office issued a statement Thursday giving the dates of a visit that had been widely expected since Kazakhstan suspended operations at Kashagan, in the Caspian Sea, last month.

Kazakhstan is demanding that the Eni-led consortium pay billions of dollars in compensation, citing environmental violations, cost overruns and repeated delays.

Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni met Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov and his energy minister in Astana this week to be told that delays in developing the oil field were harming the country's growth prospects and development plans.

Emboldened by high oil prices, resource-rich Kazakhstan has long been mounting pressure on the group of mostly Western oil majors working on the Kashagan project, which is Astana's entry ticket to the club of top 10 global oil producers.

Kazakhstan accuses the consortium of violations ranging from environmental issues to fire safety problems, triggering talk among industry analysts about so-called resource nationalism and damaged investor confidence.

Last week, Masimov demanded a leading role for state energy company KazMunaiGaz in running the field -- the biggest oil discovery in the last three decades -- after Astana had threatened to replace Eni as operator.

Italy's government has talked of hopes for a breakthrough in negotiations before Prodi's visit.

The other participants in the Kashagan consortium are Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, ConocoPhillips, Japan's Inpex Holdings and KazMunaiGaz.