(Fixes typo in headline)
By Maria Golovnina
ALMATY, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s opposition accused Europe’s main human rights and security watchdog on Tuesday of putting oil before democracy by choosing the Central Asian state to hold its chairmanship in 2010.
Kazakhstan won approval last Friday to take over the rotating annual chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), despite criticism by human rights groups of its democratic record.
Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free and fair by the OSCE. The main opposition party, uniting key opposition leaders, said the former Soviet republic had no right to preside over an organisation meant to defend democracy standards.
“The OSCE decision on Kazakhstan’s 2010 chairmanship ... is an opportunistic, diplomatic compromise defined by energy politics and a deepening crisis of geopolitical interests,” the Nagyz Ak-Zhol party said in a statement.
Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s top oil producer, offers Europe a new source of oil and gas as it seeks to diversify its energy supplies away from Russia.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled with an iron fist since 1989.
He tightened his grip on power this year by seizing the right to remain in office for life and holding a snap parliamentary election which handed his political party all the seats. The OSCE criticised that election as flawed.
Two opposition leaders have been killed in Kazakhstan in murky circumstances since 2005, a year when Nazarbayev was re-elected with 91 percent of the vote.
“Kazakhstan’s chairmanship risks undermining the integrity of OSCE’s human rights principles,” New-York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Loyal Kazakh media hailed the OSCE decision as a gesture of Western approval of Kazakhstan’s development.
Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin said last week Kazakhstan would take steps to increase press freedom and make it easier for political parties to register.
Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Timothy Heritage