ASTANA, Kazakhstan, SEPT. 18, 2001 ( Following last week´s attacks on America, Kazakhstan is taking "unprecedented" security measures for John Paul II´s visit this weekend, the country´s Foreign Minister announced.

"The security measures are unprecedented, given the recent terrorist attacks in the United States," Bulat Iskakov, the head of Kazakh diplomacy, said Monday in statements to the Russian Interfax agency.

According to the Foreign Minister, 2,400 police and soldiers will be responsible for security during the Pontiff´s stay in Astana, the capital. It is the only city the Pope will visit.

On Monday, when he received the new Kazakh ambassador to the Vatican, the Holy Father said he aims to promote dialogue between cultures and religions during his Sept. 22-25 visit to this former Soviet republic. Kazakhstan has a mix of ethnic and religious groups.

Uzbekistan separates Kazakhstan from Afghanistan. Leaders in the region are bracing for possible U.S. action against Afghanistan, which has sheltered Osama bin Laden, a suspect in last Tuesday´s attacks in New York and near Washington, D.C.

Half of Kazakhstan´s 16 million inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. Just over 6 million are Orthodox, and about 300,000 are Latin-rite Catholics. There are also Greek-Catholics in the country.

Since the republic gained independence in 1991, some 600 churches and sects have registered officially in the country, including many Protestant fundamentalist groups.

The agency Fides reports that the Kazakh government has fears of fundamentalist groups, including Islamic organizations, and hence tries to control religious liberty. Large meetings require special authorization, and demonstrations and processions are prohibited. "Proselytism" and active missionary work are also banned.