Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev to meet pope during Italian visit

29 October. Adnkronos. Astana

By Josephine McKenna

Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev to meet pope during Italian visitKazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to meet Pope Benedict XVI when he makes a state visit to Italy next week. Foreign affairs minister, Kanat Saudabayev, told Adnkronos International in the Kazakh capital, Astana, that the visit was scheduled to take place during the president’s two-day state visit in which he will meet Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

During his visit the president is expected to endorse five bilateral agreements and 13 commercial accords between Italian and Kazakh companies.

“We have also scheduled the meeting with the pope because in this way relations between the Vatican and Kazakhstan will be developed and to gain support from the Vatican for initiatives by our president to bring religions closer together,” he said.

“We have had three congresses of religious leaders and from the start they included representatives of the Holy See.”

Kazakhstan is a vast country located in the heart of central Asia and has more than 16 million people.

Islam is the largest religion accounting for 62 percent of the population while, 35 percent follow the Russian Orthodox faith. Jews make up less than one percent of the total population.

Saudabayev said dialogue between the pope and Nazarbayev would strongly reinforce friendly relations between the people from different religions.

The late Pope John Paul II met Nazarbayev, who has been president of the country for 20 years, when he visited Kazakhstan in September 2001.