During a visit to Kazakhstan, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said democracy must develop alongside the economy in central Asia.
The country is a key regional ally of the US, but opposition leaders have been detained, raising questions about President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s commitment to democracy.
“Of course free and fair elections do not begin on the day of the election – prior to that there must be the ability of the opposition to organise, there must be opposition access to the press, so that voters can indeed have a free choice,” Rice told reporters.
Rice has visited several former soviet states during a tour of central Asia.
Kazakhstan is a fast-growing country where US oil companies have invested heavily.
On her trip, Rice has tried to balance US demands for improved democracy with a desire not to alienate allies. Washington is competing for influence in the region with Russia and China.