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Kazakh leader made hero of allegorical play
Kazakhstan's authoritarian president Nursultan Nazarbayev made hero of allegorical play
By The Associated Press

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) ' On stage, the leader of the nation treks into a nighttime magical forest and begins talking to the trees, which turn into his opponents.

The premise of a new play about Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev may sound like biting political satire, but the intent is just the opposite. "Deep Roots," debuting Thursday in the capital Astana, is the latest example of the mythologization of the man who has run the sprawling Central Asian country since its independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.

Nazarbayev already has been heralded this year in a book of illustrated children's fables portraying his diplomatic accomplishments and in a glowing movie depicting his early life in a shepherd's family.

In the commercial capital Almaty, a statue of Nazarbayev stands in a park named after him.

Kazakhstan is far from the suffocating and bizarre personality cults of countries such as North Korea and Turkmenistan, but the increasingly elaborate adulation of the leader underlines Nazarbayev's dominance. The government has tirelessly quashed opposition to Nazarbayev's rule and maintains a tight grip over the political system and the media.

The play clearly had the government's approval.

"The action of the characters reflects the realities of our time," Kazakhstan's Culture Ministry said in a statement.

In a televised interview prior to a preview in July, "Deep Roots" playwright Erkin Zhuasbek said telling the tale of Kazakhstan's independence through allegory was a way of airing a variety of viewpoints "without serious consequences."

"There's nothing to hide, there are different opinions in society and these are all heard in this play," Zhuasbek told TDK-42 television station.

Kazakhstan has generated vast revenue from its vast oil, gas and mineral wealth, although huge disparities persist between its rich and poor citizens Even so, Nazarbayev enjoys genuine popularity and is widely seen as a guarantor of stability in a multicultural nation that has largely been spared the ethnic and political unrest that has rocked countries like neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Alarm has grown, however, over a series of unprecedented Islamist-inspired attacks across the country since the summer in which dozens have been killed, including several law enforcement officers. A long-running oil workers' strike in the west has also strained nerves for authorities unused to sustained union activity.

Without an obvious successor in sight, the 71-year-old Nazarbayev is expected to retain his grip on power for the foreseeable future. He was re-elected as president with an astonishing 95 percent of the vote in April polls that were criticized by international observers.

Last year, Kazakhstan's single-party Parliament voted to anoint Nazarbayev with the title of Elbasy ' "leader of the nation." That gives him the right to approve important policies after he retires and grants him lifetime immunity from prosecution for acts committed during his rule.

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