UK signs £3bn in trade deals with Kazakhstan
Britain and Kazakhstan signed trade deals worth £3 billion (4.2 billion euros, $4.6 billion) Tuesday as London rolled out the red carpet for the country's autocratic President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Nazarbayev's visit prompted fresh criticism of Prime Minister David Cameron's government from human rights campaigners, two weeks after a lucrative state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The pro-Russian Kazakh leader is also due to have lunch with Queen Elizabeth II Wednesday, when he will be greeted by a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.
Cameron said he wanted Britain to be Kazakhstan's "partner of choice", adding: "We can see that being put into practice right here, right now, with our countries and businesses about to sign 40 contracts and memoranda of understanding worth £3 billion."
He pointed to deals involving four new gas plants and a steel production facility in Kazakhstan as key components of trade ties between the two countries.
Nazarbayev told Cameron: "What we are asking is just come over, do your business, earn your money together with us. We welcome the business and we are creating exceptional conditions for this."
Asked whether Cameron would raise Kazakhstan's human rights record during their meeting, Cameron's spokeswoman told reporters earlier that no issues would be "off the table".
"The prime minister by having a strong, engaging relationship with a range of different countries enables us to raise matters of concern and talk about them in person," she added.
But Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International UK said Kazakhstan had a "terrible track record over the torture of criminal suspects and in crackdowns on peaceful protestors and journalists."
"Pursuing contracts with oil and gas-rich countries like Kazakhstan must not come at the cost of silence on human rights abuse," he said.
Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan with virtually no opposition since two years before independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
He won a fresh five-year term with nearly 98 percent of the vote in a weakly-contested election in April.
The energy-rich ex-Soviet Central Asian nation is currently struggling to deal with low oil prices and the impact of neighbouring Russia's economic crisis.
Kazakhstan's growth has shrunk to less than a third of 2013 levels on the back of the steep decline in oil prices and the Russian recession.
© 2015 AFP