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British Prime Minister David Cameron has begun talks with President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other senior officials during the first visit by a serving British prime minister to Kazakhstan.

At their July 1 meeting, Cameron and Nazarbaev signed a strategic partnership agreement focusing on economic cooperation.

Cameron said ahead of the meeting that business was the focus of his visit but not at the expense of human rights, a topic that critics fear has been crowded out by energy and other trade and economic concerns.

“We’re in a global race for jobs and investment, this is one of the most rapidly emerging countries in the world, I have over 30 British businesses with me, we’re hoping to sign over 700 million pounds’ worth of deals that will mean jobs back at home,” Cameron said. “And also investment in this rapidly growing economy. That’s what this is about. But of course, nothing is off the agenda, including human rights.”

ANALYSIS: Will Human Rights Be On Agenda During Cameron’s Kazakhstan Visit?

Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakhstan with a tight grip for more than two decades, tolerating no dissent or opposition.

At his news conference with Cameron, Nazarbaev told a British journalist who inquired about human rights issues and jailed dissidents that “no one has a right to tell us how to live and how to build our country.”

Nazarbaev added that all Kazakh citizens have been “provided with basic rights and freedoms.”

Accompanied by a British business delegation, Cameron was expected to oversee the signing of about a dozen contracts involving British firms and to cut the ribbon on infrastructure elements of the Kashagan offshore oil field.

In September, Cameron and Nazarbaev together opened the Bolashak oil plant, which will process crude that is due to start flowing from the giant Kashagan offshore oil field in September.

Royal Dutch Shell has a 16.81 percent stake in the facility, which is in the Kazakh segment of the Caspian Sea.

Nazarbaev said last week consortium members had so far invested $48 billion, making it the most expensive oil venture in the world.

Cameron is also hoping to persuade Kazakhstan to expand transit rights for British military forces relocating equipment from Afghanistan between now and a planned withdrawal next year.

Nazarbaev has already granted overflight rights, but Cameron is looking for land transit rights too.

Based on reporting by Reuters, KazTAG, Kazinform, and AFP
Copyright © 2012, RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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