ALMATY, Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan is observing a new holiday lauding President Nursultan Nazarbayev, part of a growing cult of personality around the leader of the sprawling, resource-rich former Soviet republic.
The highlight of Saturday's celebration of President's Day, which marks the anniversary of Nazarbayev's first election in 1991, was a carefully choreographed pageant by some 30,000 performers in an arena in the capital Astana, including mass singing and banner-waving.
The 72-year-old Nazarbayev exercises extraordinary dominion over Kazakhstan's political life. In the most recent presidential election in 2010, he pushed aside three token rivals to win 95 percent of the vote. International monitors criticized the election as unfair.
He receives blanket, praiseful coverage from state news media, while the government has cracked down on independent outlets.