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Kazakh President Replaces Defense Minister, Parliament Removes Nazarbaev From Lifetime Posts

After resigning in March 2019, Nursultan Nazarbaev retained large political influence in the oil-rich country.

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's leaders have taken further steps to replace government officials and concentrate the powers of President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev by stripping former President Nursultan Nazarbaev of lifetime posts a week after deadly protests swept across the Central Asian country.

Toqaev also fired Defense Minister Murat Bektanov on January 19 and immediately appointed Ruslan Zhaqsylyqov, formerly the deputy interior minister, to the post.

Parliament's lower chamber, the Mazhilis, approved a motion by several lawmakers to deprive the former Kazakh president of his right to be lifetime chairman of the influential Security Council and the Assembly of Kazakhstan's People.

After announcing his resignation in March 2019 and leaving Toqaev in his stead, Nazarbaev retained large political influence in the oil-rich country with almost limitless powers as "elbasy" (leader of the nation) and lifetime leadership of the Security Council and the Assembly of Kazakhstan's People.

Protests in the remote town of Zhanaozen in early January over a sudden fuel-price hike quickly spread across Kazakhstan and led to violent clashes in the country's largest city, Almaty, and elsewhere.

Toqaev said in the wake of the protests that he took over the Security Council, without giving any comment.

Much of the protesters' anger appeared directed at Nazarbaev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power. However, he was widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes.

In his first-ever public criticism of Nazarbaev, Toqaev said last week that under his predecessor's leadership, many lucrative businesses and extremely rich people had appeared in Kazakhstan and it was now time for the ordinary people to receive what they deserved.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Nazarbaev's close relatives have lost their official posts, suggesting that the government was moving to purge or squeeze members of the ex-president's extended family.

Nazarbaev, who kept silent during the protests, issued a heavily edited video statement on January 18, confirming that he is no longer in charge of the Security Council. He also denied any rift between him and Toqaev.

An online petition has been launched by a group of Kazakh citizens demanding Nazarbaev's immunity guaranteed by law be cancelled. As of January 19, nearly 7,000 people had signed the petition.

Kazakh authorities say that 227 people were killed during the unrest, including 19 law enforcement officers, and 12,000 were detained.

Human rights groups say the number may be much higher, and that scores of people remain missing.

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