Naubet Bisenov in Almaty -
The leaders of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus are meeting in Astana today to sign a treaty that will transform the Russian-led Customs Union (CU) into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in 2015. Kazakh prosecutors have sent out stern warnings to opponents of Eurasian integration in a bid to ensure events go smoothly.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Astana for a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council on May 29. Together with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev they will sign a treaty on the creation of the EEU. The parliaments of the three countries are expected to ratify the treaty by the end of the year.
The presidents of Armenian and Kyrgyzstan, which are on the cusp of accession to the CU, will join the summit after the signing ceremony. Armenia is due to join the EEU in January or soon after, while Kyrgyzstan is set to have its roadmap on joining the bloc approved by the member states, and will join it at a later date.
In Kazakhstan, opposition to deeper Eurasian integration has been growing, with critics claiming Moscow dominates the project and that it endangers the country's independence. That has seen Astana pushing a campaign to advertise the economic benefits of the CU and EEU, as well as clamping down on opponents.
Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Samat Ordabayev admitted on May 27 that the EEU was originally planned as a political union, but that Astana had insisted on keeping the bloc purely economic. Rakhim Oshakbayev, deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, had earlier complained of disparity in the representation of Kazakhstan and Belarus in the Eurasian Economic Commission. However, by May 29 he said such concerns will be corrected by the treaty.
At the same time, Kazakh prosecutors have taken pre-emptive measures to curb protest around the signing. On May 28, prominent activists were warned against breaching the country's draconian public assembly legislation. The warnings threatened activists with punishments ranging from a fine to up to a year of imprisonment.
The same day, ten who had taken part in an anti-Eurasian gathering the previous day in Astana, were handed jail terms of three to four days on charges of "petty hooliganism". Radio Azattyq (RFE/RL's Kazakh Service) correspondent Orken Zhoyamergen, who was covering the protest, was also detained. Journalists from the online 16/12 television channel are also under arrest, RFE/RL reports. Kazakh activists say they plan to wear surgical masks as a sign of opposition on May 29.
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