April 25, 2006

US envoy accused of near crash with Kazakh leader

ALMATY (Reuters) - U.S. officials said on Tuesday one of
their diplomats accidentally steered between vehicles in Kazakh
President Nursultan Nazarbayev's motorcade, but a Russian media
report said he nearly crashed into the president's car.

"The president's security guards did not shoot to kill only
because the Jeep had diplomatic plates," Tass news agency
reported, without giving a source. "(The Jeep) nearly crashed
into the limousine of President Nursultan Nazarbayev."

The U.S. embassy said in a statement the unnamed diplomat
entered the motorcade when he drove out of the car park of his
apartment building in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty on

The statement said police pulled the diplomat over,
verified his diplomatic status and driving license. "There was
a misunderstanding when (he) tried to pull away before police
had finished questioning him," it said, without elaborating.

Nazarbayev has been in power in the vast former Soviet
republic, stretching from the Caspian Sea to China and bigger
than Western Europe, since 1989.

Western leaders usually praise Nazarbayev for reforms and
political stability, ignoring a patchy democratic record and
authoritarian streak. The opposition accuses the West of
putting Kazakhstan's oil before democracy.

Kazakhstan has reformed its economy and is set to become
one of the world's top 10 oil producers in the next decade.